Wednesday, 21 December 2016

UPGro: Hidden Crisis - the story so Helen Bonsor

Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor (UPGro) is an international research programme that focuses on improving the evidence base around groundwater availability and management in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The Hidden Crisis project is a consortium project within the UPGro programme and aims to develop a robust evidence base of the large-scale status of rural groundwater supply functionality across three countries, Ethiopia, Malawi and Uganda, which have struggled for decades with service sustainability.

Helen Bonsor tells us more about the project and provides an update on progress so far after the latest project meeting in Edinburgh.

Overview and aims of the workshop

Since our last project workshop, held in Addis Ababa Ethiopia in September 2015, the first main survey phase of the project (to survey the functionality and performance of a sub-sample of water points and committees) has been completed within each of the three countries, alongside a rapid political economy analysis studies for Ethiopia and Malawi (Uganda to happen within the next few months).

The aim of the workshop was to bring the project team together to foster our growing working relationships, and to:
  1. Review Survey 1 - key challenges and successes – and to review the initial analysis of the data and plan for more detailed final analysis
  2. Planning of Survey 2 - location and site selection criteria, the research approach and aims, methods and logistics
  3. Planning of the Longitudinal studies in the 3 countries for both physical and social science surveys
  4. Interdisciplinary research - to review and discuss our approaches to interdisciplinary science in the Hidden Crisis project and lessons learned from other UPGro Projects
  5. Discuss ongoing stakeholder engagement and a Publication Strategy - for both the country research teams, and for the project as a whole.

Attendees and meeting programme

The workshop was held at the British Geological Survey (BGS) office in Edinburgh, UK, over four days - from 21st to 24th November 2016. Representatives from all institutions and from each country involved in the research consortium attended the workshop - 23 people in total.

Day 1 was focused to reviewing the work of Survey 1 across the three countries and the initial data analysis; on Day 2 the key logistics and research aims of Survey 2 happening  in 2017 were discussed, as well as the political economy work completed so far; Day 3 explored interdisciplinary research in the project, and the key aims and logistics for the longitudinal studies; and, Day 4, was used to identify and review the key priorities and planning actions for the next few months across the project team for the next main research survey phases. Several short “Ted talks” were also given throughout the week.

Hard at work at the 2nd Hidden Crisis project meeting

Summary of discussions

Presentations were made by Dessie Nedaw (Ethiopia), Michael Owor (Uganda) and Evance Mwathunga (Malawi) of the successes and challenges in completing Survey 1 across the three countries.    The project database and QA process which has been developed to store all the data collected by the project (both physical science and social science) from Survey 1, and subsequent surveys.

A preliminary analysis of Survey 1 data from Ethiopia was presented by Dessie Nedaw and Seifu Kebebe.  The analysis used the project approach of examining the impact of using different definitions of water point functionality.  These include: working at the time of visit, having an acceptable yield, passing national inorganic chemistry standards, and whether they contained total thermal tolerant coliforms.

The initial results of the rapid political economy analysis (PEA) work from Malawi and Ethiopia were presented by Naomi Oates and Florence Pichon of ODI, respectively.

Project discussions and group working at the project meeting.
There were detailed discipline group discussions and wider project team discussions to identify the main methods, key criteria for site selection and the main challenges and logistics for planning Survey 2.  Discussion was given to logistical and ethical challenges of repair of water points visited, risk of damage of the water points, and management of community expectations and follow-up during the mobilisation phases.  Key timescales for planning were identified by the project team.

A half day of the workshop was focused on a wider project team discussion of our approach to interdisciplinary science – and the key challenges and opportunities of doing this in the next phases of the project.  Kirsty Upton (of the UPGro programme co-ordination group) gave a presentation of an external MSc research paper, which has reviewed the different approaches to interdisciplinary science across the 5 UPGro consortium projects.  Lissie Liddle (PhD student Cambridge University) presented the systems dynamics analysis she will be conducting for the Hidden Crisis project, bringing together physical and social science data, as part of her PhD within a Bayesian network analysis; and, Richard Carter then led a facilitated project discussion on our different perceptions of physical and social science factors to HPB failure.  

For more information please visit the UPGro: Hidden Crisis website or follow us @UPGroResearch

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Poster presentation at the Royal Society of Saeed Ahmad

Hi, my name is Saeed, I am a PhD student at the University of Nottingham in the School of Biosciences, and on the 14th of November I attended an Early Career Researchers Meeting on the Environmental Chemistry of Water, Sediment and Soil at the Royal Society of Chemistry.

PhD Research 

I am investigating the availability of iodine and selenium in soil and their uptake by crop plants in the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). Gilgit-Baltistan is an extremely remote area in North East Pakistan and situated at the border region of Pakistan, China and India. The landscape of the area is very mountainous and more than half of the area is located 4500 meters above sea level. The local population is largely dependent on locally produced agriculture produce. The Gilgit-Baltistan area has a high rate of endemic goitre and a low concentration of urinary iodine in the local population. The overall aims of my study are to assess the factors controlling the iodine and selenium status in soils, water and plants in Gilgit-Baltistan, and ultimately examine the effects on the local population. I have recently collected soil, plants and water samples from GB which I am currently analysing by using different analytical techniques. After completing a preliminary investigation and obtaining some data on iodine and selenium contents of soil and wheat crop I presented a poster on Geochemistry of iodine and selenium in Gilgit-Baltistan at the Royal Society of Chemistry in London.

Students from the Geochemistry Group attending the conference.

Excitement and concern 

Leading up to the conference I was both excited and concerned. I was excited that I would have the opportunity to present my work and talk with other early career researchers. My concern was about missing the train and not getting to conference on time as I had to catch an early train from Nottingham. Luckily I managed to catch 6.30 am train and got to the conference venue on time along with my other colleagues from the Geochemistry Group from the University of Nottingham.

Chris Collins presenting me with my 1st prize certificate.

Poster Presentation

When we arrived at the Royal society of Chemistry, we were welcomed at the registration desk by very friendly staff from the organising committee and were guided to the poster stands. After putting my poster up, I walked around the lobby and glanced at the other posters. Everybody’s poster was very impressive, eye catching, and presenting new ideas and findings on a variety of topics in environmental chemistry. All those who gave oral presentation also did really well. Two of my colleagues Baset and Heather gave amazing presentations on iodine and selenium.

A Great Result 

The key note speaker Professor Chris Collins also gave an impressive presentation. It was a great day and I had the opportunity to speak to researchers from other universities across the UK, it was amazing to see what other people are researching. The posters were judged by the judges during poster sessions and lunch break. At the end of the day a prize giving ceremony took place, and the conference organisers announced that I had won 1st prize in the poster competition! When they called my name I couldn’t believe it! I felt extremely happy and honoured to go to the front and receive the certificate and a prize from Professor Chris Collins. It was a day that I’ll never forget. It all happened due to the invaluable support and guidance I get from my supervisors who are always available whenever I need them and for encouraging me and the whole group to attend such events. My day began with the stress and worry of missing the train and ended with the joys and happiness of winning the 1st prize.

My PhD is supervised by Dr Scott Young and Dr Liz Bailey from the University of Nottingham and Dr Michael Watts from BGS, within the joint Centre for Environmental Geochemistry.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Coming together for Drifting Apart: sharing the geological heritage of the North Kirstin Lemon

Partners and sub-partners at Glen Roy in Lochaber Aspiring
UNESCO Global Geopark during the 4th Project Meeting.
As geologists, we get many opportunities to be involved in projects that often involve working with a number of partners from across the world. As part of an EU-funded project, I attended the 4th project meeting of 'Drifting Apart' in Fort William in Scotland as one of several sub-partners that are involved in this fascinating area of geological heritage.

Led by the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust, the project, funded through the European Regional Development Fund’s Northern Periphery and Artic Programme is running from 2015 to 2018 with the ultimate aim of promoting innovative products and services for social and economic prosperity, and hopes to build a strong network of geoheritage destinations.  A total of seven partners (and numerous sub-partners) from across the periphery of the North Atlantic region are involved and hope to unearth and strengthen the understanding of our interconnected geological heritage in an EU-funded project appropriately named ‘Drifting Apart’.

The project includes partners and sub-partners from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as well as from Scotland, Norway, Iceland, Russia, and Canada and includes a mix of UNESCO Global Geoparks and Aspiring UNESCO Global Geoparks at different stages of development. Through the project, it is intended to help strengthen the links between these areas through cooperation and virtually reconstruct the shared geological heritage that these areas enjoy. 

Due to our high level of experience in ‘popular’ geological interpretation and in developing geological-based tourism products, the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland is working together with the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust and Fermanagh and Omagh District Council (Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark) to develop key elements of the project. To date these have included compiling the Drifting Apart storyline, helping to develop educational resources and deliver training for tourism and community groups all of which will help the project to achieve its main aims and objectives.  There are a number of key areas that the project will focus on:

1. Drifting Apart storyline and learning opportunities
Visiting one of many interpretative sites in Kenozero National Park, Russia
during the 3rd Project Meeting.
By highlighting the geological ‘story’ of the entire project area it will increase the awareness and understanding of not only each regions unique geological heritage, but also help to explain how these areas were once physically connected. Despite the geographical differences that exist, this will explain the dynamic nature of our planet and allow for a greater appreciation of the project areas shared geological story. The storyline will be used to develop a transnational geoheritage trail, including interpretation in all of the partner areas linked in to the Drifting Apart story. 

2. Virtual learning
Whilst the aim of the project is to encourage visitors to each of the partner area, in reality this will only be possible by a limited number of people. To address this, a virtual learning element has been included within the project so that the geological heritage of the entire area can be shared and enjoyed from anywhere in the world.

3. Geopark model and knowledge transfer
The partners included are made up UNESCO Global Geoparks of varying levels of experience as well as Aspiring UNESCO Global Geoparks at different stages in geopark development. Through the project, each partner will be able to learn and share experiences and develop potential models for future geopark growth. 

Partners and sub-partners in Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark, Iceland
 during the 2nd Project Meeting.
4. Geo-tourism and geo-education 
All UNESCO Global Geoparks work on a ‘bottom-up’ approach so one of the most important aspects of the project will be to increase the awareness and understanding of both the individual partner areas in addition to their place in the entire Drifting Apart story. This will be done through the development of common education products with specific local elements as well as similar training for communities and tourism providers. 

The next project meeting will be held in Stonehammer UNESCO Global Geopark, Canada in May.

For more information on the project and to keep up to date with the most recent developments then see or @DriftingApartEU 

Friday, 9 December 2016

BGS Stakeholder Event Prof John Ludden CBE

Every year we hold a forum to provide our stakeholders with a summary of recent science results, its impact, and our future direction. Here, our Executive Director, Prof John Ludden CBE, provides us with an update from the most recent stakeholder forum.

John Ludden presenting at the BGS Stakeholder Forum.
BGS held its biennial stakeholder event in the Geological Society of London in November. This event involved a number of different types of stakeholder which covered academia, governmental and the private sector.
Mike Stephenson (Director of Science and Technology) presented a snapshot of BGS science to 2021, where he underlined the vision of BGS to place infrastructure and real time monitoring at the heart of BGS science, in particular to underpin future energy development of the UK , but also in urban development and in sea-floor technology for mapping and resource development
Michelle Bentham (Head of Partnerships and Innovation) summarised our refreshed focus on the innovation pipeline form new ways of measuring the earth and applications to critical infrastructures to provide strategic data and ultimately spin out commercial activities and licences.
Questions from the audience had a strong focus on the UK regional agenda and underlined that although BGS is expanding its role overseas, and despite diminishing base line funding for the UK, there are important regional problems. Not the least of these are coastal erosion, development of new energy supplies and large infrastructure, such as HS2.
In conclusion of this event showed:
  • A shift in BGS towards real time subsurface monitoring underpinned by state of the art underground facilities and sensor development.
  • A stronger focus on innovation and partnerships
  • An opportunity for BGS to expand globally both in ODA implementation and in developed countries
  • The need to defining a new place for BGS in UKRI & UK government that ensures flexibility and allows BGS to prosper.
  • And finally, that BGS is at an exciting cross roads in its near 180 year development and we have a stakeholder group who believe in us.
Both the presentation delivered and the meeting itself can be viewed here.

John Ludden

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

JC142 Marine E-tech cruise to Tropic Seamount, north-east tropical Paul Lusty

Some of the new data acquired for Tropic Seamount, including
 ship-board multibeam swath bathymetry and geoacoustic 
sub-bottom profiler,  AUV surveying, ROV sampling and 
CTD water information
We are now in the final few days of our exploratory cruise to Tropic Seamount (23.5° N, 20.4° W), about 650 km south of the Canary Islands. We are amassing a significant dataset, having mapped the majority of the area of interest with ship-board multibeam swath bathymetry and geoacoustic sub-bottom profiler. This data is valuable for identifying hard rock areas for more detailed surveying with the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Autosub 6000, and rock sampling using the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Isis.

We have taken about 35 CTDs to measure conductivity, temperature and depth (pressure), and collect water samples at a range of depths over and around the seamount. We have completed 14 AUV missions to acquire higher resolution swath bathymetry, sidescan, sub-bottom profiles and still images of the seafloor in specific areas of interest. This data has been ground truthed with numerous ROV dive (18 to date), which have used for geological mapping, rock sampling (we have collected more than 250 rock samples, many insitu), core drilling (a total of 46 cores have been acquired) and biological surveying and sampling. This is probably now one of the most thoroughly surveyed seamounts globally, and the new datasets will form a basis for geological and oceanographic research for years to come.

The new rock cores have been acquired using a core drill designed at the National Oceanography Centre specifically for this project and mounted on the front of the ROV. The cores are potentially the most valuable samples for studying the lateral variations in ferromanganese crust composition, texture and thickness as a result of local-scale processes, such as such as micro-topography, currents and sedimentation rates. These cores form the basis for the research BGS is leading on, which will be delivered by a two year post-doc position, held by the newly appointed Pierre Josso. Pierre undertook his PhD with the University of Southampton on the potential for recovery of rare earth elements from metalliferous sediments on Cyprus. He will be joining BGS/NIGL in February to work on these cores and other samples, with the objective of establishing a litho-chemo-stratigraphy across the seamount.

Science operations were suspended at very short notice last week when the RRS James Cook received a ‘mayday’ call from a yacht in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers transatlantic race, which had departed from Grand Canaria. Just after 14:00 on Wednesday the yacht crew sent a message indicating that their boat was taking in water, their pumps were overwhelmed and they were sinking. As the closest available ship, about one and a half hours away, we were obliged to pull off station and head to the yacht at full speed. With the RRS James Cook using all four engines we accomplished an unheard of speed of 17 knots, reaching the yacht and its crew in about 1 hour. By the time we reached the 36ft yacht ‘Noah’ the crew (three adults and two children) had abandoned the sinking vessel and boarded their small yellow inflatable life raft, which was still close to the yacht. The James Cook pulled up close to the life raft which gradually floated alongside. The crew of the James Cook were fully prepared and well trained, handling the situation very professionally. Lines were thrown to the life raft to provide a link to the deck of the James Cook, some 3-4 metres above sea level and the raft. A ladder was lowered, but it took several attempts, despite the very calm sea conditions, to bring the life raft into a suitable position for the people on board to grab the ladder and clamber onto the James Cook.

The scene when the RRS James Cook arrived at the abandonded yacht ‘Noah’, with the small life raft containing five people
 floating away from the vessel.The life raft alongside the RRS James Cook as the ship’s crew help the people off the life raft
 and up the ladder hanging down the side of the ship.
Despite the good daylight conditions it was a precarious operation to move the five people from the constantly moving life raft onto the deck of the Cook. In about 30 minutes all five of the yacht crew were safely rescued onto the James Cook, where they were warmly welcomed by crew and scientists. We then had to retrieve the AUV, which was still in the water when we received the SOS call. The ship now exceeded its capacity so we steamed back to Tenerife, our departure port, dropping the yacht crew off early on Friday morning. We were literally alongside for about 1 hour (probably the shortest port call in the history of the RRS James Cook) before being led back out by the harbour pilot to travel back to Tropic Seamount. The Captain of the RRS James Cook placed a special request to NERC to use three engines to get us back to Tropic Seamount as soon as possible. This uses considerably more fuel, but as a result the rescue and return journey to Tenerife only cost us about 60 hours.

Rock sampling using the manipulator arm on ROV Isis. Once a rock is collected
it is placed in a compartmentalised and numbered sample box on a retractable tray
which slides out from beneath the ROV. The images also shows push cores with
 t-handles for sediment sampling using the manipulator arm. The grey niskin used
for collecting uncontaminated rocks samples for microbial studies is situated
on the bottom lefthand side of the image

Anyway we were back on the science programme by Saturday 26th November. Improved physical and chemical characterisation of ferromanganese crusts is crucial to understanding local-scale processes controlling deposit formation and predicting their occurrence. One of the first missions once back at Tropic Seamount was a 17 hour ROV drilling dive, with the aim of acquiring 12 drill cores (the maximum number the ROV can collect in a single deployment) over a lateral distance of some 100 m of ferromanganese crust pavement. These cores will principally be used by BGS to investigate lateral variations in crust thickness and composition, using a combination of high resolution trace element geochemistry and isotope analysis. The ROV drill requires a flat surface for the ROV to land on, so its use is restricted to the large areas of rock pavement, mainly occurring on the summit of the seamount. However, as water depth is likely to have a strong influence on crust composition and thickness it is important to sample over the full depth range of the seamount, from the summit plateau at about 950 m down to where the flanks meet the abyssal plain in water depths >4000 m. This type of sampling relies on picking up loose rock with one of the manipulator arms on the ROV Isis or preferably snapping off insitu samples from the seabed exposures.  The manipulator arms are very powerful and capable of lifting about 200 kg, but it still challenging to break pieces off the highly encrusted rock slabs whilst attempting to keep the ROV static. The crust samples we are obtaining typically have very nice sub millimetre-scale layering, representing millions of years of gradual deposition and reflecting paleooceanographic changes (e.g. water mass provenance, depth of the oxygen minimum zone, biological productivity, current velocity and upwelling patterns) in the north-east Atlantic. To compliment the scanning electron microscope, laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) and isotope studies planned at BGS, high-resolution x-ray computer tomography scanning will be done at the University of Leicester. This quick and entirely non-destructive technique allows the reconstruction and visualisation of the internal structure and textures of materials in three dimensions. It is ideally suited to imaging materials such as crusts, which have well-defined, compositionally distinct layers. Combined with compositional data provided by LA-ICP-MS, this technique provides a powerful tool to explore the heterogeneity (or lack of continuity) of litho-chemo-stratigraphy within crusts and nodules at the centimetre scale.

The potential role of microbes in Fe-Mn deposit formation remains unclear. To study this process colleagues at NOC are collecting small pieces of ferromanganese crust to study. In an attempt to transport these from the seabed sampling site to the surface in their ambient environment we have adapted a niskin bottle mounted on the front of the ROV. Once a piece of rock has been placed in the niskin it is closed to seal it from the wall column as the ROV is recovered back to deck. The uncontaminated material will be used to study any microorganisms colonising the crust and which may have role in concentrating E-tech elements in these deposits.

From L-R: Ferromanganese crust samples collected with the ROV Isis manipulator arm spread out in the laboratory on the
 RRS James Cook, ready for cutting and subsampling; A cut section from a nodular block of ferromanganese crust. Note the
 intricate growth layers, which have been deposited on lithic fragments incorporated into the nodule during development
The ROV dives also provide an excellent opportunity to study the marine ecosystem and fauna populating the seamount. Seamounts are generally considered to support high levels of biodiversity and unique biological communities. There is therefore potential for conflict between the location of sessile biology and the highest grade ferromanganese deposits. We are collecting lots of imagery to assess the type and diversity of fauna inhabiting the different seamount environments over varying depth ranges. Images and other habitat data are supported by the collection and photographing of type specimens by the ROV during the geological sampling operations.

Clockwise from top left: A ‘Dumbo Octopus’ (Grimpteuthis spp.) photographed during a ROV dive. These deep-sea ‘umbrella
 octopuses’ are rare and notable for their fins that resemble elephant ears; A large crab (the red laser dots are 10 cm apart)
 walking over ferromanganese nodules sitting in soft sediment on Tropic Seamount; Typical sessile fauna on an area of
 ferromanganese crust pavement on Tropic Seamount; Crinoids growing on a sandy sediment covered bank and facing the
 current direction (the red laser dots are 10 cm apart). 
The remaining few days of the cruise will be spent conducting another ROV-based plume experiment as part of a study examining the potential environmental impacts resulting from exploring for and extracting seabed mineral deposits. We have to recover the three moorings, which we placed across the seamount at the start of the cruise to record hydrographic data over a 30 day period. We are also planning another series of ROV rock sampling dives and further AUV surveys. The RRS James Cook returns to Tenerife on the 8th December where some of the equipment will be offloaded for trials early next year on the RRS Discovery, which is also docked in Santa Cruz.

Paul Lusty
Co-Chief Scientist JC142