Saturday, 31 January 2015

NERC Impact Awards... by Katherine Royse

The very first NERC Impact Awards, to formally recognise and reward NERC-funded researchers who are achieving substantial impact on our economy and society, was held on Tuesday 27th January in London. Katherine Royse, BGS Science Director for environmental modelling, reports on the event...

The Impact Awards were held in the RIBA in Portland place, a fantastic venue. The room was filled with the most senior people from the environmental and earth sciences. There must have been well over a hundred people there including our Executive Director Prof John Ludden

The event even had its own cup cake one for every guest! 

Around the room there were several banner posters which told you all about the candidates. I had a chat with Hannah Cloke about her work she was very excited to be there and her work has brought about significant changes in decision-making practice, improvements in flood warnings and a reduction in flood risk around the world. 

There were four categories;   

Economic impact - Recognising research that has achieved exceptional economic benefit. This was awarded to Stephen Boult for his work on developing new instruments to monitor water and gas in the environment;

Societal Impact - Recognising research that has achieved exceptional social, cultural, public policy or service, health, environmental or quality of life benefits. This went to Jeremy Thomas for his work on Blue Butterflies; 

International Impact - Recognising research that has achieved exceptional economic and/or societal impact outside the UK. This went to John Pyle for healing the ozone hole. He also received the award for Overall Winner;

Early Career - Recognising an early career researcher who has achieved exceptional economic and/or societal impact within the UK or internationally. This went to Hannah Cloke for her work on flood forecasting uncertainty;

After watching all the videos about all the candidates everyone on my table was very inspired about it all. Talking with the candidates and other guests afterwards was really interesting and I really hope that NERC does this again to celebrate science and it's impacts on society. Get all the information about the finalists on the NERC website here.


Friday, 30 January 2015

Environmental Change Exchange... by Melanie Leng

Scientists from the University of Nottingham
arriving for the workshop
Last week a group of environmental change scientists from the BGS and the University of Nottingham met up at a networking event aimed at fostering collaboration between the two premiere environmental research organisations in the Midlands. Here Prof Melanie Leng tells us about the aims and achievements of the day… 

It was great to get so many environmental scientists together last week. The scientists were a collection of international experts and PhD students with a huge wealth of knowledge in using geology (plants, fossils, soils and sediments) to understand past environmental and climate change. The aim was to expand our research areas by working in an interdisciplinary way focusing on some of the most pressing questions facing mankind. 

The day started with each scientist giving short introductions on their specific research areas which included: using fossil plants to tell us about past concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, the use of the chemistry of sediments as a record of human impact on our environment, and using fossils to provide information on very long term natural changes in global warming related to variations in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun… 

Sarah Roberts, @SRoberts_uk, a PhD student at the University
of Nottingham, presenting her research on recent
environmental change in Lake Baikal
After the quick-fire introductions we separated into 3 major research themed groups, on: (1) how the Tropics and Intra-Tropical zones will respond to future global warming with reference to warming periods in the past; (2) how increasing human populations are impacting the environment especially in China and Malaysia; and (3) how we can use the world class geochemistry facilities across the two Institutes to optimise the important questions in environmental change research. 

Overall, the day was a great success, it was especially impressive to hear the range of environmental change research being conducted in Nottingham, and we look forward to developing our ideas into future collaborations within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry

By Melanie Leng, the Director of the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry, find her on twitter @MelJLeng

Potential impacts of shale gas exploitation on groundwater... by Mark Stevenson

Rob Ward is our newly appointed honorary Professor and Science Director for Groundwater. On the 20th January he presented ‘Potential impacts of shale gas exploitation on groundwater’at a seminar hosted by the University of Nottingham and BGS. Here, Mark Stevenson (a PhD student from the University of Nottingham) reports on how it went…

The potential environmental consequences of shale gas exploitation have been well publicised in the media, however it is rare to hear the scientific basis and the potential impacts on groundwater so this seminar was very well attended. Rob’s passion and enthusiasm for groundwater protection and management was clear throughout his talk, so it was excellent to hear a report on the scientific work that is being done more widely and how the BGS and the University of Nottingham are contributing to this.

Rob Ward (left)
Rob began his talk emphasising the importance of pollutant sources, pathways and sinks, and how a detailed understanding of geology is vital when used to inform decision making. He explained that although proportionally at a national scale, small levels of shale gas extraction would not use water on the same scale as we use in our homes, locally water needs should be considered carefully as surface water is not evenly distributed across the UK. At a local scale, significant volumes of water during well drilling and hydraulic fracturing return to the surface. This water contains chemicals and therefore requires monitoring especially since many proposed fracking sites are overlain by vital aquifers, rivers and wetlands that support biodiversity and human health.

Rob went on to talk about the ongoing experience in countries that are early adopters of shale gas such as the USA, but he emphasised that relying on this will not be enough to ensure groundwater protection in the UK as our geology is very complex.  Detailed understanding of the 3D layering of rocks, faults and aquifers have been mapped by the BGS, but this needs to continue and extended.  Rob explained that the BGS are monitoring the ground and surface water around some test sites and these areas are going through the planning process to help scientists know the current ‘baseline’ conditions. So if there are changes in the future due to shale gas extraction we will know about it. We were also told that to ensure safety of groundwater into the future, long term monitoring would be required during, and even after any wells have been abandoned.

More information about the work being undertaken by BGS on shale gas and groundwater can be found on the website here, this is a video of Rob talking from the BGS YouTube channel:

Overall, I personally found the seminar very thought provoking and it really highlighted the importance of taking a geological and approach to this increasingly debated issue.

By Mark Stevenson
PhD student at the University of Nottingham in the School of Geography

Read my previous blogs here

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

A World of Ice and Fire: the geology of the Game of Kirstin Lemon

Northern Ireland :
The Real Westeros
For its size, Northern Ireland has some of the most diverse geology in the world.  This incredible geology has led to the development of a vast array of natural landscapes many of which, like the Giant's Causeway, are famous throughout the world.

This stunning geology hasn't gone unnoticed by the TV and film industry and many locations across Northern Ireland have been the settings for some high profile filming. 'Dracula Untold', released in October 2014, was filmed at numerous locations including at the Giant's Causeway's famous basalt columns, and at Scrabo Country Park, known for its beautiful pink sandstone used in many local buildings. The recent BBC drama 'The Fall' whilst based in Belfast, used the surrounding Belfast Hills as the backdrop for many of its more sinister scenes easily recognised by the characteristic layers of white limestone, overlain by black basalt.

                     Carrickarede viewed from the mainland                    
But perhaps Northern Ireland is most notable for being the location for filming a huge portion of HBO's multi award-winning fantasy drama series 'Game of Thrones'. The series is set on the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos, with Northern Ireland being the filming location for most of Westeros. Discover Northern Ireland have produced a tourist map guiding visitors to the main filming locations. We've provided a taster of some of the geological Game of Thrones locations and fans won't have to travel very far to come across somewhere that looks just more than a little familiar.

Starting in the north-west, the stunning beach of Downhill is the location for Dragonstone chosen because of its dramatic basalt cliffs that tower over the beach below. Formed from a series of lava flows around 60 million years ago, the basalt cliffs are notoriously unstable at this location causing a serious engineering headache due to the presence of a train line at the base of the cliff.

Following the famous Causeway Coastal route to the east, the next filming location is Larrybane, or The Stormlands to Game of Thrones fans. Larrybane translates from the Irish as 'white headland' and this classic outcrop is formed from Cretaceous white limestone, formed around 80 million years ago, and more commonly known as chalk. Just along from Larrybane is Carrickarede, an explosive volcanic vent that would have burst its way through the limestone at the beginning of the Palaeogene period around 60 million years ago and well known for its nail-biting rope bridge.

Slemish Mountain
The next stop on the journey is the beautiful harbour of Ballintoy, used by hundreds of geology students every year for its accessible outcrops of limestone and basalt. This tranquil harbour was built to transport amongst other things, quicklime, a form of processed limestone that was produced in the purpose-built lime kilns at the harbour. Ballintoy was transformed into Pyke, in the Iron Islands for Game of Thrones and is perhaps one of the most easily recognisable locations.
As you continue along the Causeway Coastal route, the village of Cushendun is next on the list of film locations. Again, a spot for many geology students every year, if nothing else for a break from the limestone and basalt that dominates this area. The caves at Cushendun are conglomerate, a rock made up of numerous large pebbles that were carried here from a desert upland area by flash floods over 400 million years ago. The caves are where Melisandre (or the Red Witch) gave birth to the shadow baby in one of the more fantastical scenes in the series.

            Magheramorne Quarry with King's Landing in the           
            foreground and Castle Black perched on top of the          
            white limestone with black basalt behind           
The next location on the list is not far from the town of Ballymena. Already a religious pilgrimage site in its own right, Slemish Mountain is a Palaeogene volcanic plug composed of dolerite. Due to its different composition from the surrounding basalt, it has eroded at a different rate and can be seen standing proud on the landscape for miles around. There are a number of such plugs on the Antrim Plateau, all associated with a period of volcanic activity around 60 million years ago, but Slemish is by far the largest. The surrounding area was transformed into the Dothraki Grasslands for Game of Thrones.

One of the sites that you won't find on any of the tourist maps is Magheramorne Quarry, just south of Larne. This disused quarry was earmarked for development as an eco-village before the recession but has found a new lease of life as the set for King's Landing and Castle Black in Game of Thrones. The quarry was worked for white limestone, and it has the typical overlying basalt geology. In between the two is the clay-with-flints deposit, originally thought of as being a residual weathering product, and later as a volcaniclastic deposit. Both of these theories are being revisited so check back for further updates. Because of the importance of the clay-with-flints, this site is being designated as an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) which allowed for BGS scientists to gain access to the quarry.  

Landscapes surrounding Castle Ward
Moving much further south and this time to the shore of Strangford Lough, the grounds of Castle Ward were used for filming Winterfell (Old Castle Ward itself) and Rob Stark's Camp. The more subdued landscapes of the area surrounding Strangford Lough were shaped by ice during the last glaciation and are home to one of the most impressive drumlin fields in the country.

The last stop, and the most westerly point for filming is Pollnagollum Cave located in the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. The cave can be found in Belmore Forest and was used as a Victorian show caves long before the Marble Arch Caves were even dreamt of. Access to the cave is down through a collapsed cave roof, and like the majority of the bedrock in this part of Co. Fermanagh they are formed out of Carboniferous limestone that was deposited around 340 million years ago.

Pollnagollum Cave
Due to the growing number of visitors wanted to visit the filming locations, in addition to the tourist map of the main locations for filming, there are numerous tour companies taking visitors to key locations. So if you love Game of Thrones and love geology then perhaps now is the time to come and see one of the largest natural film sets in the world!

For further information on any of the geological sites mentioned then contact Dr Kirstin Lemon at

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Lyell Centre Breaks Ground... by Lauren Noakes

Myself [Lauren Noakes] (left) and Nichola Gaffney (right), from
the BGS Communications Team in obligatory onsite selfie
On this very beautiful and crisp Edinburgh morning I went along to see the Ground Breaking of The Lyell Centre.

In 2016 this completed shiny new HQ for BGS in Scotland will be home-from-home to me and my colleagues currently based at Murchison House and Loanhead. Read on to find out why, together with Heriot-Watt University, the Lyell Centre will lead the world in earth science research and innovation... 

John Ludden, BGS Executive Director (and silver spade wielder), said “It is a pleasure to see work begin on the British Geological Survey’s new home in Scotland. Our facilities and our staff, currently at several sites across Edinburgh, will be united here at The Lyell Centre alongside research teams from Heriot-Watt University. This tremendous opportunity will broaden our science base and create an innovative hub of world-leading research in the geosciences in Scotland. ”

Professor Steve Chapman, Principal of 
Heriot-Watt University (left) and   
Professor John Ludden, Executive   
Director BGS (right) breaking ground   
As John says we'll be sharing The Lyell Centre with researchers from Heriot-Watt University’s Schools of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure & Society and Life Sciences, with whom we'll create a global centre of excellence based on our research synergies and collaboration. The Centre will bring together key expertise from both institutions as well as an £8.5m investment in top-level academic recruitment from around the world, providing a huge opportunity for earth and marine science in general and for Scotland in particular. 

Professor Steve Chapman, Principal of Heriot-Watt University, said, “This is the physical start of a tremendous project, and is the result of many months of dedicated work behind the scenes. The Lyell Centre will provide a huge opportunity for earth and marine science in Scotland and globally, commensurate with Heriot-Watt’s international standing and global reach.”

As the press release says, the emphasis of the Centre’s work will be at the   intersection of the earth and marine sciences. Research in the Lyell Centre will play a key role in finding pragmatic solutions and providing evidence-based informed and reliable opinions in areas of energy supply, environmental impact and global climate change, where inputs have traditionally been polarised. Its work will be both socially and industrially relevant at national and international scales.

There are a lot of people to thank for the creation of this masterpiece. In particular The Lyell Centre is funded by BGS, Heriot-Watt University, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Scottish Funding Council (SFC).  Additional funding of £8.5m will also underpin investment in top-level academic staff recruitment and student research positions.

The BGS/NERC Project team. From Left to Right:
David Kearney, John Murray, John Ludden, Mike Patterson, Bob Gatliff

As well as providing new office and laboratory facilities The Lyell Centre will incorporate a new 50,000 litre climate change research aquarium, the UK NERC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas, a high level industry engagement and training initiative for the oil and gas sector, and the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience.
It's going to be quite a journey over the next 52 weeks, so check the web and @BritGeoSurvey for #LyellCentre updates!

For more info about the Lyell Centre (design above) you can read our previous press release here

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Talking Isotopes, state side... by Ginnie Panizzo

Ginnie and Patrick Frings (Lund University) talking
Si cycling in coastal environments with Claudia Ehlert
at the “Biogeochemical Cycling of Silicon and
Isotopes in Biogenic Silica” poster session.
Every year, for a whole week in December, 20000 geoscientists descend on San Francisco for one of the biggest Geoscience conferences in the world: the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting. Can you imagine what its like?! Certainly there are fleece wearing, poster-tube-wielding geologists everywhere. Last month the number of delegates reached an all time high at 24,000 people, there were 3,000 talks and posters presented each day, here's Ginnie Panizzo and Sarah Roberts to tell us about their American adventure...

AGU is one of the main outlets for palaeoclimatology (the study of past climate) and therefore a great opportunity to present scientific findings in this field of research. As such some of the BGS honorary staff hosted a session on isotopes and environmental change. The session led by our Honorary Research Associates (Dr George Swann and Prof Anson Mackay) was entitled: “Biogeochemical Cycling of Silicon and Isotopes in Biogenic Silica”.

This was a fantastic opportunity to showcase the silicon stable isotope work they have been pioneering in continental Siberia with staff from the Centre of Environmental Geochemistry at the BGS. Although scheduled on the afternoon of the last day (so called grave yard slot), the session still drew a crowd with a vast array of interesting talks on fractionation effects of carnivorous sea sponges, agricultural impacts upon soil biogeochemical cycling and a novel interpretation of the diatom bound 13C technique.  There was also a poster session which also brought a large amount of foot fall, with some very interesting discussions about field and laboratory methodologies covering a vast array of stable isotope methods (including 30Si and 18O). 
AGU logo source: Wikipedia

All in all, I had a great week at AGU, which needless to say, asides from the pioneering science, is a great chance to catch up with old friends and colleagues from around the world, as well as a great opportunity to forge new research collaborations. Bring on the next research year.

Written by Ginnie Panizzo and Sarah Roberts

Ginnie is a Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham and a Visiting Researcher Associate at the BGS, she will soon be starting an Anne McLaren Fellowship at the University and will be working within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry at the BGS.

Sarah is doing her PhD research at the University of Nottingham in the School of Geography.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Bringing lights, camera and action to Carbon Capture & Storage... by Gemma Purser

At the beginning of December a group of MSc students from the University of Nottingham descended upon the BGS Keyworth site armed with cameras, lenses and all manner of technical gizmos to undertake some filming of the CO2 Storage (CCS) team. Gemma Purser, Analytical Geochemist, recounts their adventures on film...

This collaboration, set up between the British Geological Survey and University of Nottingham, was an opportunity for BGS scientists unfamiliar with talking in front of a camera to face their fears and develop their presenting skills. For the students this was the first time they had worked within their small production teams. Their brief was to produce a 10 minute film documentary on a science topic, a key requirement of their MSc course in biological imaging.

Timelapse recording at Keyworth reception
The students were on site for a week, initially chatting to their allocated scientists to develop a filming schedule and to assess possible locations for filming. The subsequent days saw a frenzy of filming with some very imaginative and modern filming techniques. Our very own BGS photographer, Paul Whitney, was on hand to give hints and tips to both students and scientists alongside the course director, David McMahon and course tutor, Steven Galloway.

Five scientists within the CCS team took part (including myself after some initial reluctance), each giving an overview of CCS before answering more specific questions relating to their particular area of expertise.
Chris Rochelle, who was one of the original members of a founding CCS project, Joule II, which was undertaken here at BGS about 22 years ago, gave an overview of CCS. He also discussed what the future may hold for CCS whilst still managing to throw in a few fun and visual examples of science for which he has become somewhat famous.

Group photo courtesy of David McMahon 

Michelle Bentham addressed the question of how much CO2 can be stored and where. Michelle has recently completed a project (CO2 Stored) with the Crown Estate and Energy Technologies Institute to assess the location and storage capacity of potential offshore CO2 reservoirs around the UK.
Dave Jones and Sarah Hannis gave the students a double bill of knowledge relating to the importance and assessment of wellbore integrity and how we can demonstrate the safety and permanent containment of storage of CO2 through the use of various monitoring techniques. Dave and Sarah have experience of monitoring both natural and experimental situations during which CO2 gas has been injected and/or released.

As a scientist working within the fluid processes research laboratories, I got the opportunity to talk about the processes that a molecule of CO2 gas, that would ordinarily be released to the atmosphere, has to go through in order to be stored as a solid mineral at depths greater than 800m below the earth’s surface.

Filming in the Core Store at Keyworth
I think the film week was a success for many reasons. It gave BGS staff the chance to develop their ability to explain the important science around carbon capture and storage to the Nottingham students and also the wider public through the films eventual release onto the BGS website. It provided an opportunity for the students to work in a real life situation based on a client brief with ‘on location’ filming. Based on the success of this year we are already in discussions as how best to continue and improve the experience for next year’s MSc course. So if any other teams out there fancy having a go in front of the camera then keep your eyes peeled for future requests for scientists or you can drop me an email for more information.

Finally a big thank-you to all of the people who took part but especially Nichola Gaffney and Lauren Noakes who made sure everything ran to the plan and to Jonathan Pearce, CCS team leader, who along with Clive Mitchell, communications manager, funded the staff time to allow it to happen, which was much appreciated.

Gemma Purser

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Geochemistry brings societal benefits to sub-Saharan Africa... by Michael Watts

Michael Watts
Michael Watts, Head of Inorganic Geochemistry at the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry, outlines how BGS is bringing big societal benefits to sub-Saharan Africa by supporting earth science researchers and academic networks. Before outline these benefits Michael explains the project framework and major partners involved....   
The Inorganic Geochemistry team within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry recently won a consortia grant from the Royal Society-DFID Africa Capacity Building Initiative.  This grant was won by successful partnership with the University of Nottingham, universities and research institutes in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The initiative aims to strengthen the research capacity of universities and research institutions in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) by supporting the development of sustainable research networks between SSA and the UK.  The project will run until 2020 (£1.243M) and produce a cadre of young, talented researchers through integrated PhD scholarships and shared supervision between the UK and Africa consortia members.  It will focus on one of the three RS-DFID priority areas, soil geochemistry, the other areas being water & sanitation and renewable energy. 
This consortia will undertake experimentation to better understand the biogeochemical controls on trace element mobility and their soil-to-crop transfer through improvement of soil analytical capabilities, soil geochemical mapping and predictive modelling. Understanding soil geochemical processes is essential to support policies in agriculture (e.g. liming, nutrient inputs, organic residue incorporation) and public health (e.g. mineral deficiencies and toxicities).

Sampling team in the Zambian Copperbelt region, BGS, ZARI and CBU
Benefits to Society

The first Millennium Development Goal (MDG 1) of the United Nations, ‘to reduce extreme poverty and hunger’, will not be met by 2015 in many African countries. Even where staple food is plentiful, chronic micronutrient deficiencies (e.g. zinc, iron, iodine, calcium, selenium), termed ‘hidden hunger’, often constrain development. To place this in context, in Malawi, we have been able to estimate for pilot studies that zinc deficiency carries an annual health burden of ~3,800 childhood deaths and ~100,000 ‘lost’ healthy life-years; an economic burden of >1% of GDP. Hidden hunger also affects wider MDGs directly by causing cognitive dysfunction and growth retardation (MDGs 2,3), mortality (MDGs 4,5) and disease (MDG 6). Soil geospatial drivers of primary production and hidden hunger are widely recognised in the geochemical control of soil-to-crop transfer of minerals. However, understanding, capturing and integrating soil geochemical processes across multiple scales to deliver effective policy support has not yet been achieved in Sub-Saharan Africa due to gaps in data and in technical and analytical capacity.

This project will improve the understanding of soil geochemistry to underpin decision support tools for agriculture (e.g. liming, nutrient management and organic residue incorporation strategies) and public health (e.g. identifying regions at risk of micronutrient deficiencies and toxicities). We anticipate our project to support wider and sustainable development policies. The participation of government research institutes and their extension services alongside partner university staff in all countries ensures that societal benefits from translating research outcomes into soil-related policy are achieved as efficiently as possible.

Local interest and enthusiasm in our activities

Aligned activities

The overall programme of work for the consortia allows for additional PhD projects (and other funding opportunities) to be aligned to the RS-DFID project to connect work on soil geochemistry-dietary mineral intake-health impact-socio-economic impact.  In Malawi, there will be an additional PhD student developing a biomarker measurement for selenium health status at a population scale; in Zambia, we have Elliott Hamilton (BGS Inorganic Geochemistry team) undertaking a part-time PhD on metal speciation-modelling of controls on chromium soil-to-crop transfer in agricultural soils close to mine tailings in the Copperbelt region; and in Zimbabwe a third PhD student yet to be assigned.

A recent visit to Zambia and Zimbabwe to make preparations for collaborative efforts included fieldwork in the Copperbelt with Murray Lark and Elliott Hamilton, with the Copperbelt University and Zambian Agricultural Research Institute.  Murray and Elliott will write a follow-up blog to explain more. 


Want to know more about the topics included in this post? Here's a reading list of recent academic outputs from the research consortia:

Gibson RS, Wawer AA, Fairweather-Tait SJ, Hurst R, Young SD, Broadley MR, Chilimba ADC, Ander EL, Watts MJ, Kalimbira A, Bailey KB, Siyame EWP. (2015). Dietary iron intakes based on food composition data may underestimate the contribution of potentially exchangeable contaminant iron from soil, Journal of Analytical Food Research (in press).

Joy, EJM, Broadley, MR, Young, SD, Black CR, Chilimba, ADC, Ander, EL, Barlow, TS and Watts, MJ*. (2015). Soil type influences crop mineral composition in Malawi, Science Total Environment, 505, 587-595.

Joy, E, Ander, EL, Young, SD, Black, C, Watts, MJ, Chilimba, ADC, Chilima, B, Siyame, E, Kalimbira, A, Hurst, R, Fairweather-Tait, SJ, Stein, A, Gibson, RS, White, P, Broadley, M. (2014) Dietary mineral supplies in Africa, Physiologia Plantarum, 151, 208-229.

Siyame E; Hurst R; Wawer AW;Young SD; Broadley MR; Chilimba ADC Ander EL; Watts MJ; Chilima B; Gondwe J; Kang’ombe D; Kalimbira A; Fairweather-Tait SJ; Bailey KB; Gibson RS. (2014). A high prevalence of zinc but not iron deficiency among Women in Rural Malawi: a cross-sectional study, International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, 83, 3, 176-187.

Hurst, R, Siyame, E, Young, SD, Chilimba, ADC, Joy, EJM, Black, CR, Ander, EL, Watts, MJ, Chilima, B, Gondwe, J, Kang’ombe, D, Stein, AJ, Fairweather-Tait, SJ, Gibson, R, Kalimbira, A, Broadley, MR*. (2013). Soil-type influences human selenium status and underlies widespread selenium deficiency risks in Malawi, Scientific Reports, 3, 1425.

Broadley MR, Chilimba ADC, Joy, E, Young SD, Black CR, Ander EL, Watts MJ, Hurst R, Fairweather-Tait SJ, White PJ, Gibson RS. (2012). Dietary requirements for magnesium but not calcium are likely to be met in Malawi based on national food supply data, International Journal of Vitamin and Nutrition Research, 82(3), 192-199.

Joy EJM, Young SD, Black CR, Ander EL, Watts MJ and Broadley MR. (2012). Risk of dietary magnesium deficiency is low in most African countries based on food supply data, Plant and Soil, 368. 129-137.

W H Shetaya, S D Young, M J Watts, E L Ander and E H Bailey (2012). Iodine dynamics in soils, Geochemica et Cosmochimica Acta, 77, 457 – 473.

Chilimba, A.D.C., Young, S.D., Black, C.R., Ander, E.L., Watts, M.J., Lammel, J. and Broadley, M.R. (2011). Maize grain and soil surveys reveal suboptimal dietary selenium intake is widespread in Malawi, Scientific Reports, 1, 1 - 9.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Ancient carbon beneath frozen Arctic lakes... by Mark Stevenson

These images weren't taken while location scouting for Disney's Frozen but during a science expedition to find ancient carbon in West Greenland. In the first blog of 2015 Mark describes his icy expedition and why it's important to understand how much carbon is stored in  the thousands of lakes along the ice free coastal plain. He asks if these lakes will act as a good store of carbon or whether with future climate warming they will start to release more CO2 into the atmosphere...

Let it snow... an ice covered Lake Disko (Photo by E.Pearson)
Disko island lake number 2 (of many thousands), I am on the right and my field assistant Joe Bailey on the left.
During my PhD research I had the opportunity to visit the remote and beautiful island of Qeqertarsuaq (Greenlandic) or Disko Island as it is more widely known. The visit involved taking cores of sediment that had accumulated at the bottom of the lakes (over the last 10,000 years) for various geochemical analysis of the carbon in the sediments.

As we visited Disko Island in spring the lakes were still frozen so we had to core through the surface  ice into the sediments underneath. We also surveyed the areas around the lakes to look at the soils and plants that subsequently might get washed in and then have their carbon stored on the lake bed. Access to the lakes was by snowmobile which was an amazing experience, with lots of helpful logistical support provided by the University of Copenhagen’s Arctic Station.

Me placing the samples into a mass spectrometer
for isotope analysis at the BGS (Photo Jonathan Dean).
Back in the UK I have spent the last year doing laboratory work (at Nottingham, Newcastle and the BGS) focusing for the moment on just three lakes with different catchment (the area immediately around the lake) types. I can tell where the carbon in the lake sediments has come from using carbon isotope, pigment, and lipid biomarker analysis.  These types of analyses are complicated and take a lot of time, but worthwhile as I can unpick the source of the carbon (soils, rocks, plants within the lake etc.) which is really important. From initial data I have shown that the lakes with small catchments have less soil carbon in-washed, whereas much larger lakes have greater soil carbon washed in during the spring thaw, and this relationship has changed over the last 10,000 years. Another important finding is that some lakes, mostly those at higher altitudes in the landscape, with smaller catchments have algal communities that are different today compared to the past. 

So what have I found out and how do these lakes’ influence the global carbon cycle?

It’s complicated! The thousands of Arctic lakes contain a lot of carbon which is effectively being stored in the sediments, preventing more CO2 from entering the atmosphere (carbon from soils often reverts into CO2 through bacterial action). At the moment the larger lakes are storing more carbon than is being released as CO2 back into the atmosphere. What I now need to investigate is if this was the case in the past when conditions were warmer, for example the Medieval Warm Period (AD950 to 1100) or early Holocene (c. 8,000-6,000 years ago) warm period. When I have figured this out I can estimate how much additional CO2 will go into the atmosphere from Arctic lakes during a warmer world. Release of this store of Arctic carbon will further exasperate global warming.

I am very pleased with the progress of my project so far and am looking forward to new data in the New Year which will help to make my initial interpretations more robust. The collaborations in my project have really helped ‘add value’ to my project and training and I am very grateful to everyone who has been involved. Big thanks especially to Suzanne McGowan and George Swann (Nottingham), Emma Person (Newcastle) and Melanie Leng (BGS).

Happy New Year, I will look forward to updating you later in the year!


Mark is doing his PhD research at the University of Nottingham in the School of Geography, he has recently started a new aspect of his project within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry at the BGS.