Friday, 26 June 2015

A picture speaks a thousand words: delving into GeoScenic ... by Caroline Adkin

GeoScenic was launched in early December 2009 as part of OpenGeoscience, a free service where these images can be downloaded and used for private study, educational activities and research.

GeoScenic is an image library which currently has over 86,000 modern and historical images from BGS's archives. These images can be located under various categories such as Best of BGS images, a summary of the best photographs from the collections, Geoscience Subjects, covering a range of topics such as geoscience areas of interest, fossils and general photographs, and Special Collections, covering important or historical collections from the archives.

Each of these main categories will also have many subcategories. The existing images cover a range of subjects, for example different rock structures around the UK, fossils and the impact of natural events on the landscape for instance flooding and volcanoes, which have become of great interest to many people in recent times. It is also proving extremely popular with both teachers and members of the public.

P711374 Aerial views of flooding in Cumbria 2009.
Since the launch, there has been a total of 48,814,120 views. The most popular images being viewed are photographs of flooding and pictures from one of the Special Collections, the Henry Mowbray Cadell Archive.

Henry Mowbray Cadell
P769232 India tour. Mosque.
From the HM Cadell photographic archive.

Born in 1860, Henry Cadell was a mining consultant and industrialist. He had acquired considerable geological knowledge of the Lothian coalfields. In the 1850s, he had passed on a wealth of geological information about the Bo'ness area to Archibald Geikie. Cadell later went onto study geology under Geikie at Edinburgh University in 1878.

Archibald Geikie became director of the Geological Survey in 1882. Cadell joined the Geological Survey in Scotland in 1883. Staff were being recruited to work in the Highlands, at that time the largest part of the British Isles that remained geologically unsurveyed. Cadell spent much of his time mapping this region and rapidly became an efficient and reliable field geologist. His focus was mainly on the complexities of the Moine Thrust Belt.

During this time, Cadell's interest in the geometry and mechanisms of thrusting was demonstrated in 1885 with 'squeeze box' experiments that compressed wet sand and plaster of Paris (later settling for clay, sand and plaster of Paris) layers to recreate thrust geometries similar to those that he had been mapping.

Cadell's career in the Survey ended in 1888, following the death of his father. Following his marriage in 1889, he travelled extensively to many parts of the world, for example Norway, USA, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand, Russia, India and Burma, recording geological and geographical information.

Cadell's archive comprises of notebooks full of copious notes, diagrams and sketches. His watercolours portray less detailed information. The photographs were taken on his extensive travels around the world.

In addition to views, there have been numerous downloads, and once again the most popular being pictures of flooding, but also photographs from other Special Collections including the National Stone Collection, microscope slides from the Sir Joseph D. Hooker Collection and photographs from the Edmund Oswald Teale Collection.

P776120 Genus: Stigmaria; Taxon:
Plants: Gymnospermophyta;
Locality: Wolverhampton.
Microscope slide from the
Sir Joseph D Hooker Collection.
Sir Joseph D. Hooker

Born in 1817, Joseph Hooker was one of the greatest botanists of the 1800s. Hooker joined the Survey in 1846 until 1847. During his brief time here, his work involved plants of the Carboniferous Coal Measures.

In 1846, the Geological Survey was under the directorship of Henry de la Beche. Hooker, as one of the new employees, and part of a small team of geologists, palaeontologists and surveyors, spent the summer investigating the Bristol, Somerset and South Wales coalfields.

The majority of the slides in the collection comprise of sections of Coal Measure plants. Labels had been inscribed onto the glass – few of which were signed J.D.H 1846. The remaining slides comprise of fossil wood collected on previous travels including some samples collected by Charles Darwin (who was a very good friend) whilst on HMS Beagle. According to Darwin's correspondence, he and Hooker exchanged some fossil wood slides in 1844. This would appear as to how some of these sections found their way into the collection.

This 'unregistered' slide collection had become 'lost' at some point. Hooker was off on his travels and was unavailable to assist cataloguing his collection. The collection was moved around a few times over the years. With each move, the significance of the collection became more obscured until 2011, when by chance the collection was rediscovered. The collection has since been photographed and made available online.

Edmund Oswald Teale (formerly Thiele)

Born in 1874 in Australia, Edmund Teale first started his career as a field geologist with the Geological Survey of Victoria where he worked in Australia and New Zealand. Around 1908, after gaining a First Class Honours degree in Geology, Palaeontology and Mineralogy, Teale travelled to Africa to start what would become an illustrious career. Starting first in Nigeria then in Portuguese East Africa. He became Assistant Director of the Gold Coast Geological Survey in 1915.  Unfortunately he returned to Australia in 1916 due to the occupation of the German colony in the First World War.

In 1917, Teale (formerly Thiele) anglicised his name and also found employment in the Geology Dept at the University of Melbourne. After the war, he returned to Africa, and continued his explorations, some with Albert Ernest Kitson when they discovered diamonds on the Gold Coast in 1919. Teale then went on to establish the Geological Survey of Tanganyika in 1926, where he remained Director until 1935. Teale was created a knight in 1936 during his colonial service there.

P776550 Mrs Charlotte Teale trims Edmund's hair. Field camp,
PortugueseEast Africa. 1911. EO Teale photograph collection.
After his death in 1971, he left behind a massive archive which is now held by the British Geological Survey, after years travelling widely through Africa and Australia. A few items still reside in the Australian archives. The collection comprises of a typescript autobiography, around 1400 photographs and lantern slides covering his life, work and travels in Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Other items include diaries for 1928-1936, many letters, field note books, testimonials and a typescript history of the Geological Survey in Tanganyika.

New pictures are being added on a regular basis. This is an excellent way of showing the public and promoting the variety of work and activities carried out by BGS scientists. If you would like to see what images are available on GeoScenic then go

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Roaming Romania for Rare Earths ... by Victoria Honour

Victoria Honour from the Camborne School on Mines
Victoria Honour from the Camborne School of Mines is currently doing her MSc research project with BGS. Here she tells us about her experience of looking for rare earth elements (REE) in Romania. 

Concerns over resource security have been present since the industrial revolution: the future of coal, copper and cobalt supplies have all been questioned in the past.  Today, the EU has a list of materials deemed critical to Europe's economic growth but for which there are concerns about security of supply.  Rare Earths are top of this list and consequently in 2013, the European Commission funded a project called EURARE (, which aims to set the basis for a European REE industry. 

The EURARE project has identified numerous deposits for further evaluation across Europe, including in Romania.  The rare earth deposit in Romania is hosted by the Ditrău complex, which lies in north-eastern Romania, an area known for being the coldest in the country.  It is an alkaline layered intrusion with high levels of REE, niobium and molybdenum.  The current information available on this fascinating intrusion is rather sparse, so this is where my MSc project and Romanian fieldwork with the BGS comes in. 

The aim of the fieldwork was to examine the field-relationships between the rare earth mineralisation and the complex and obviously, as geologists, collect samples for later study.

Mineralogist, Paulina Hirtopanu's office in Budapest

Exploring a mine waste dump
Myself, Kathryn Goodenough and Richard Shaw started the trip off with a fascinating meeting at the University of Bucharest with local professor and mineralogist Paulina Hirtopanu.  We saw some spectacular specimens and it was a great opportunity to get our eye in for what we would see once we headed to the complex. We also met with Strategic Resources who hold prospecting permits for the complex and provided us with fantastic support throughout our fieldwork.

After our fleeting glimpse of Bucharest, we headed northwards, experiencing the less-risk-adverse driving style of the Romanians, alongside plenty of horses and carts (number plates on carts are essential). We arrived in Gheorgheni, a small Romanian town in eastern Transylvania, and began investigating the geology of the complex.  The complex covers a 18km2 area so there was lots of ground to explore, but we were assisted by local geologist Dr Gyula Jakab and Strategic Resources' knowledge of the area and specifically, outcrop locations.

Sulphide and molybdenum mineralisation along a vein
The area was extensively explored in the 70s leaving an abundance of mine waste dumps at the entrance to exploration galleries.  Even in this 'waste material', we found many gigantic, fist-sized monazites rich in rare earths.  There were beautiful mineralised veins cutting through the complex, full of molybdenum, sulphides and monazite (a rare earth bearing mineral); we brought some of these samples back to the UK and hope to be able quantify the processes which occurred to form the rare earth enriched veins.  We also saw magma mixing 'frozen-in-time' in a quarry that had been explored for dimension stone… brilliant exposure ready-cut for geologists. 

The scenery in Romania was stunning; alpine-esque mountains perfect for hiking, giving us some amazing views when we dragged ourselves away from studying the rocks!  We were chased a few times by the 'cow-dogs' who objected to geologists getting too close to their herds.  We saw an abundance of interesting insects and were lucky enough to see a European brown bear and her cub!

The Alpine-esque scenery of Romania
The geology was outstanding and challenging, holding so much potential for both academic study and economic extraction.  Our collected samples are currently being processed, ready for the analytical stage of the project.  This is a fascinating project that I'm really excited to be working on with the BGS!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Mobile School Seismology in the Chiller ... by Tim Pharaoh

Tim Pharaoh holding the compact
 seismic sensor and data logger
Tim Pharaoh visited Iceland in April at the invitation of Greenhead College, Huddersfield. He accompanied a 40-strong party of AS level Geography and Geology students and their teachers on a 5 day itinerary in the SW part of the island. Following the 'classic' route through the 'Golden Triangle', the party discovered the benefits of geothermal energy at the 'Blue Lagoon'; experienced ocean-free Mid-Atlantic Ridge at  Þingvellir; observed dramatic glacier recession; and a host of 'alien' volcanic, landscapes. These are now immortalised in TV shows like 'Game of Thrones' and 'Fortitude', and films such as 'Prometheus', 'Interstellar', 'Thor' (predictably!) and 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'. The excursion enabled deployment of a new compact 3-component seismic sensor and data logger manufactured by Gulf Coast Data Concepts (, packaged in a waterproof case and no bigger than a lunchbox.

The objective was to carry out a sensitivity test of the device with a view to possible wider use in the BGS School Seismology programme. The sensor records up to 30 days of seismological data onto a micro-SD card, which can be analysed subsequently using SeisGram2K software on a laptop PC, either in the field or in the lab. The sensor was deployed in the grounds of Hotel Laki, Kirkjubæjarklaustur, in the surreal setting of a 'whale cemetery' at the rear of the hotel. Interlopers to this scene may have thought they were caught up in the filming of 'Walter Mitty 2'! The students helped to bury the device, and recover it 36 hours later. The theoretical sensor self-noise (i.e. acceleration detection limit) is just above 0.02m/s/s. At this level, signal from an M2 event would only be detectable closer than 10 km from the sensor; from an M3 event, closer than 60 km from the sensor; from an M4 event, closer than 120 km from the sensor.  The record from the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) shows that there were no significant seismic events in the vicinity during the deployment, the eruption of the Bárðarbunga volcano having ended a few weeks previously. As a result, no seismic events were detected by the sensor, only 'cultural noise' from Max as he recovered it with a shovel. However, the ease of deployment was demonstrated and the sensor should be capable of delivering useful and interesting data from an active seismogenic zone. Since nature was not forthcoming with a seismic signal, we had to improvise with our own Vibroseis source!

Greenhead College students and Tim Pharaoh burying the sensor 
Should your school or college have the opportunity to visit such a region for a reasonable period in future, you may want to try it out for yourselves!  If so, please contact Paul Denton, of the BGS Schools Seismology Programme, directly.

Thanks to a relay of individuals who allowed the transfer of the sensor from Fulneck School to Greenhead College before the trip! The assistance of Richard Brewster, Becky Gould, Frédérique Jaffeux and their students with this experiment is gratefully acknowledged. We also thank Hotel Laki, a great place to stay, for their hospitality.


Paul Denton, Schools Seismology Programme, BGS Keyworth (
Web     Facebook Twitter @schoolseismo

Tim Pharaoh, Energy and Marine Geoscience Programme, BGS Keyworth  (
Richard Brewster, Geography Department, Greenhead College, Huddersfield (
Becky Gould, Geology Department, Greenhead College, Huddersfield
Hotel Laki,  Kirkjubæjarklaustur (

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Continental drilling and a trip to Minneapolis ... by Melanie Leng

Melanie Leng in Minneapolis
In early June the International Continental scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) committees met to assess deep drilling of the Earth applications for 2015. The meeting was held at the world famous LacCore (National Lacustrine Core Facility) in Minneapolis. Here Melanie Leng explains a bit about ICDP, the UK's geoscience community involvement, and her trip to Minneapolis…

The UK is a member of the ICDP, this enables a consortium of geoscientists from the UK (in collaboration with other member countries) to apply for funding to drill through kilometres of sediments and rocks in order to get columns of pristine material for scientific study (take a look at the ICDP-UK website for more information). There are many reasons to want to drill the Earth, and like many applications that were assessed at the meeting, they often involve assessing natural hazards including volcanoes and meteorite impact structures and understanding past climates and environments. The June 2015 meeting was a great success in that many applications for drilling very long holes in the Earth were funded, and the great news for the UK is that many involved UK scientists (more will be shortly revealed on theICDP-UK website).

The St Anthony Falls Laboratory on the shore of the
Mississippi in Minneapolis
As well as assessing proposals the committees visited the LacCore and the Continental Scientific Drilling Coordination Office (in the USA) facilities in Minneapolis. LacCore and CSDCO provide infrastructure for scientists utilising core samples from the Earth's continents in their research, through integrated support for drilling, through project design to curation of samples and data. The committees also visited the world famous St Anthony Falls Laboratory (part of the University of Minnesota), which is built on the shores of the Mississippi River and uses the river as a natural laboratory to better understand water flow and sedimentary processes. Being able to quantify the behaviour of rivers is very important, for example, to help restore rivers and streams after catastrophic events, to stabilise deltas at the mouths of major rivers, and for watershed and water resource management.

Some of the ICDP committee members at the LacCore
including the BGS Director (far left)
Back to the ICDP… The UK has key personal within the program, Prof John Ludden (BGS Director) sits on the Assembly of Governors, I sit on the Executive Committee and Dr Kathryn Goodenough (BGS) is part of the Science Advisory Group. Please feel free to contact us about any ICDP related activities. The next deadline for ICDP proposals is January 2016. You can keep up to date with ICDP-UK activities through the website. Keep a look out for the news about the new, very exciting, funded drilling projects.   

Melanie Leng (@MelJLeng)

Friday, 12 June 2015

Measuring magnetic history at Godrevy Point ... by Anthony Swan

Even in these days of the ubiquitous handheld GPS, those of you who regularly take to the hills and moors across the UK will be aware that a map and compass are essential for navigating you safely home.  Experienced walkers will know the importance of magnetic variation and how it can change from location to location, but will say that it is always west of Grid North. Well historically (since the production of OS maps) yes, but now in the very south-west corner of the UK this can no longer be said to be true.

How can this be? Surely your compass always points in the same direction? Well not exactly, you see most people think of the Earth's magnetic field as a traditional bar magnet, the type you used in physics class with a north & south pole at each end (something we call a dipole), but as my colleague Sue explained in an excellent blog last year this is not strictly true, the field is more complicated than that. It varies in both strength and direction depending on where you are on the Earth and your compass will always align itself with the local magnetic field. To complicate matters further, this field also varies over time, for example the field across the UK currently has an easterly movement of 10-13 arc minutes (0.17-0.27°) per year. It is this slow easterly movement of the field that now sees that south-west corner of the UK with an easterly Grid Magnetic Angle (GMA).

How do we know this? Well, people have been measuring and recording the magnetic field for hundreds of years. From early naval explorers who soon realised that as they circumnavigated the globe their compasses didn't always point north, through to scientists on Captain Scott's ill-fated Antarctic expedition, to us today at the British Geological Survey (you can find out more about us and our historical archives at this address:

How do we measure the field? Well that's something we at the BGS are very good at, in fact we in the UK are considered world leaders in what we do. And what we do takes us to some remote and interesting places around the world, from as far south as the Antarctic region to the very north of Alaska, with some sunny places in between.

The BGS run a series of magnetic observatories both in the UK and around the world, which allows us to produce very accurate global models of the Earth's magnetic field. However these observatories are spaced too far apart for us to accurately model the local magnetic variations across the UK that hill-walkers and ramblers rely on (we have three UK observatories located in the UK: Shetland Islands, Dumfries & Galloway & north Devon).

To produce the regional variation values that appear in your Ordnance Survey maps we run a programme of spot measurements across the UK every summer. We have a total of 41 of these so-called repeat stations across the UK, visiting each one every four years.

If you're thinking that it would be interesting to head down to one of these stations and take a look, I'm afraid that you may be a little disappointed. There's nothing actually there to indicate their presence, no markers, no trig-points, just open fields.

Each time we occupy a measurement site there are a certain number of tasks we need to carry out before we measure the magnetic field. Firstly we have to find the site location, we now use a modern GPS system that can give us our location to millimetre accuracy, however in the recent past the only way to find the site would be take measurements from recorded landmarks (which sometimes wasn't easy, as some of those landmarks had a habit of disappearing in the four years since the last visit).

Once the site has been found, we walk across the site area with a device that measures the full value of the magnetic field. This device doesn't give us the direction of the field, but it indicates its strength and the site survey will tell us if anyone has contaminated our measurement location with magnetic debris since we last visited (someone might have decided to bury a cable or metal waste nearby).

Once we're confident that we've found the measurement location and that the site is magnetically clean, we then have to determine the direction of geographic (or true) north. To do this we have a couple of methods - we can either use the differential GPS system or we can use a north seeking gyroscope. Either method allows us to determine the direction of true north from our measurement site with an accuracy of better than 10 arc seconds (0.0027°).

After obtaining our true north direction (azimuth) we take a series of measurements throughout the day using a survey theodolite (a device that can very accurately measure angles) with a fluxgate magnetometer fitted on top (this magnetometer can be thought of as a digital compass, but can measure the field much more accurately than a standard field compass).

At any point on the Earth the magnetic field can be thought of as a 3-dimensional vector, that is to say that it is made up of both horizontal (northerly and easterly) and vertical components. You may not know that your standard field compass is set up to compensate for the force of this vertical component. If however you decide to take your Northern Hemisphere compass on holiday to say Chile, you'll find it useless as the vertical component of the magnetic field in the Southern Hemisphere is in the opposite direction and your compass needle will no longer be balanced.

Our measurements throughout the day are essentially aligning the theodolite perpendicular to both the vertical and horizontal components of the magnetic field and very accurately recording the angles. Whilst making the angular measurements we are also running an instrument that measures the strength of the field (the one we used for the site survey). By combining the angle and strength measurements we can then use simple trigonometry to resolve the 3D vector of the magnetic field at that location.

Before we use this data in our regional models and pass it on to the Ordnance Survey for use in their maps we have to do one more thing. You see, as well as the magnetic field varying slowly over time (something we call secular variation), it also varies throughout the day due to the heating effect of the sun in the upper ionosphere (diurnal variation). The effects of space weather can also dramatically change the magnetic field throughout the day (you can find out more about this from our web-pages). These short-term variations have to be removed from our data before we pass it on to the Ordnance Survey and to do this we use our observatory data to determine the value of these variations at each site at the time of the measurements.

The values we record on site give us the declination angle at that particular location (that is the angle between true north and local magnetic north). We then produce a model of declination for the UK and correct it for grid north before supplying the Ordnance Survey with Grid Magnetic Angle (GMA) values for across the UK.
So why are we measuring magnetic history? Well, at the beginning of June this year, on a very wet and windy Cornish day we visited our repeat station at Godrevy Point (GOD on map). The measurements performed on this day were the first time in over 350 years that anyone has measured an easterly GMA across the UK, and it's something we at the BGS are very excited about.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Science-Based Archaeology within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry… by Angela Lamb and Holly Miller

On 1st June BGS hosted a workshop with the aim to bring together scientists from BGS and the University of Nottingham to facilitate more collaboration between the institutes on the theme of Science-Based Archaeology. Here Angela Lamb (BGS) and Holly Miller (University of Nottingham) tell us about the workshop….

Angela Lamb introducing the day's agenda
Melanie Leng started us off with an introduction to the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry and how the centre has evolved over the year since its creation. The aim of the workshop was for both institutes to share their research interests and techniques with each other to find areas of common ground for research. We started the day by BGS staff presenting how their specific research areas have been and could be applied to Archaeological problems. Angela Lamb gave the first talk of the day, summarising the use of stable isotopes in Archaeology and how multiple isotope systems can be applied to questions including the origins of agriculture, climatic change, origin and migration of animals and past dietary regimes. As Professor Jane Evans couldn't join us I showed a video of Jane elegantly explaining how isotopes work:

Carolyn Chenery discussed how radiogenic isotope systems work and their application to the study of human and animal origin and migration, followed by Melanie Leng who showed us examples of how isotopes can be used to gain sub-seasonal scale climate records from mollusc shells. Chris Vane is head of Organic Geochemistry within the Centre and he summarised the various organic provencing techniques he thought were relevant, provoking much interest and discussion. Simon Chenery rounded off the BGS talks with a review of how we can measure the availability of metals in the environmental and also how elemental microanalysis by ICP-MS can examine the origins of materials such as pottery and glass.

In the afternoon, University of Nottingham staff gave us their research summaries, which included examples of the great collaborations already happening between the institutes. Naomi Sykes illustrated some results from the AHRC funded Fallow Deer and Chicken projects, emphasizing how isotopes can inform us about the origins, movement and domestication of animals and how this is important for future food security. Julian Hendersonhas also a well established research connection with BGS and explained how geochemistry has enhanced his work on the origins of glass within Europe and the near East. Hannah O'Regan has also worked with BGS for many years and shared her work on the diet and evolution of Macaques and her current interests involving linking isotope data with geo-satellite imagery and examining fungi as a hidden food resource. Will Bowden rounded up the talks with a look at the Roman site of Caistor in Norfolk, and his research on the evolution of the town and its relationship to the surrounding landscape, in particular how humans interacted with the nearby river. There were clear potential linkages with BGS's organic geochemistry techniques.

The day ended with a lively discussion about how we could move things forward, especially routes for funding, and I know many individuals left with new contacts forged and a strategy for taking things forward.

By Angela Lamb, Research Scientist at the NERC Isotope Geoscience Laboratories, British Geological Survey and Leader of Stable Isotopes in Archaeology within the Centre of Environmental Geochemistry and Holly Miller, Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham and Visiting Research Associate at the NERC Isotope Geoscience Laboratories.