Friday, 27 April 2018

A trip to Vienna for the European Geosciences Union General Assembly ... by Dr Jack Lacey

Catch up with #EGU18 on Twitter
This month, over 15,000 scientists from more than 100 countries took part in the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly in Vienna, Austria.  The EGU programme was diverse with over 17,000 presentations that detailed novel and exciting geoscience research from around the world, and beyond!

Dr Jack Lacey from the British Geological Survey Stable Isotope Facility attended the conference to share new results from two projects that look at human impact on lakes. Here, Jack tell us about his week and the work presented…

Jack Lacey presenting research on human impact at Tasik Chini, Malaysia
The EGU General Assembly provides a fantastic opportunity for geoscientists to network and discuss their latest findings, as well as meet with representatives from industry and publishing. It was a very busy week indeed. The large number of scientific presentations were organised into 22 broad-scale topics, such as ‘Natural Hazards’ or ‘Atmospheric Sciences’, which were subdivided into 666 subject-specific sessions each consisting of talk, poster, and PICO sessions. This was in addition to the medal lectures, great debates, town hall meetings, short courses, and educational and outreach events. Thankfully, the timetable for the whole week is available online and through the EGU app, so you can plan your week in advance and make sure you get to all relevant sessions.

The two papers I presented look at the scale and timing of human impact on lake systems, specifically Rostherne Mere in the UK and Tasik Chini in Malaysia. Using sediment core records we are able to find out how these ecosystems behaved in the past before major human disturbance (e.g. deforestation, pollution, dams), which can then act a baseline for understanding when and in what way human activity has influenced the lake and its biota. This information is essential for putting in place conservation strategies to help manage and reduce our impact on natural environments.

Overall, the meeting was very successful and it was great to share this research with the wider scientific community. Find out more about the Tasik Chini project on GeoBlogy, and read about tracing human impact on Rostherne Mere (UK) in Anthropocene.

EGU is hosted at the Vienna International Centre, Austria
Contact Dr Jack Lacey or via Twitter @JackHLacey

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Announcing our new Core Scanning Facility ... by Dr Magret Damaschke

It has been an exciting start as we prepare to open the new Core Scanning Facility at the National Geological Repository (NGR) in Keyworth, Nottinghamshire, UK, for business in late-summer 2018.

Funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC), the UK Geoenergy Observatories (UKGEOS) allocated £1.4 million to create a state-of-the-art core scanning facility equipped with four high-resolution and automated core scanner systems for core imaging and non-destructive core analysis.

With these new capabilities whole, split, or slabbed rock and sediment cores can be continuously scanned to provide initial information on the geophysical, mineralogical, and geochemical characteristics of the core, record core quality and fundamental variations downcore, and allow high-definition optical, near-infrared (NIR), ultraviolet (UV), and X-radiographic images to be taken. These techniques minimise the need for destructive sampling and will enable scientist to target specific areas of interest for effective sub-sampling procedures.

Once up and running, the NGR Core Scanning Facility will not only give UKGEOS the opportunity to facilitate world-leading research into UK’s sub-surface environment (read the science plan), but also will allow scientists, academics and commercial companies to add significantly to their general drill core data acquisition and exploration procedures. Compared with traditional analytical methods, these approaches greatly reduce the time, cost, and destructive nature of sampling.

Why slab it, when you can scan it!


BGS takes great pride in purchasing from two market-leading analytical equipment suppliers: Geotek Ltd and Cox Analytical Systems; both renowned for their cutting edge technologies that greatly contribute to scientific- and industrial-based applications.
  • Instruments that have been purchased for the NGR Core Scanning Facility include:
  • Geotek Multi-Sensor Core Logger (MSCL-S
  • Geotek Rotating X-Ray CT Scanner (MSCL-RXCT
  • Geotek XRF Core Workstation (MSCL-XYZ
  • COX  XRF Tray Scanner (newly designed instrument)
MSCL-S and RXCT delivery and installation by Geotek Ltd

Geotek Ltd. delivered the first two core scanners (MSCL-S and -RXCT) to the newly refurbished core scanning facility on 26th March 2018. Heavy instrument parts, weighting up to 1.3- ton, were carefully manoeuvred through the narrow corridors and installed by the experienced team. Afterwards, BGS staff members were trained to understand all the components and system parts, and on how to use the software to acquire, process and manage data.

Geotek Rotating X-ray CT Scanner (MSCL-RXCT)

We will be using the MSCL-RXCT to visualise and record internal structures present within the core to determine core quality, heterogeneity, and fracture network. The rotating source-detector assembly allows linear and rotational scans to be realised, which makes it a valuable tool to users who wish to extend from general 2D X-Ray radiographic core imaging to 3D X-Ray CT reconstructions. A digital rock software package (PerGeos) will help users to visualize, process, and rapidly interpret the digital core imagery.

The RXCT Scanner

Geotek Multi-Sensor Core Logger (MSCL-S)

Top: The MSCL-S
Bottom: Typical MSCL-S data display
The MSCL-S will be used for ultra-high definition core images and geophysical analyses, including gamma density, magnetic susceptibility, non-contact electrical resistivity, P-wave velocity, colour spectrophotometry (including NIR), and natural gamma activity.

These data will give scientist the opportunity to:
  • Generate bulk density, porosity, salinity, and/or P-wave velocity profiles
  • Map core quality, heterogeneity, and lithology variations downcore (e.g., grain-size, texture, colour)
  • Estimate water-content and permeability
  • Identify compositional changes (biogenic vs. terrigenous)
  • Recognise fundamental features (e.g., gassy soils, cemented horizons, erosion surfaces, clay-rich layers, radioactive material, turbidites, tephra, detritus, etc.)
  • Implement core-to-core and/or core-to-log correlations, and lateral correlation between core locations
  • Provide information on the stratigraphic framework when logging has failed during exploration 
  • Catalogue and archive
Looking ahead, the delivery and installation of the COX Tray Scanner and Geotek MSCL-XYZ will be expected to take place at the end of June 2018.


Special thanks goes to the BGS Facility Management Team who completed reconstruction and enhancement of the existing facility, as well as the BGS Systems and Network Support Team who managed network connection, data storage and any other organisation needs.

For more information please contact Dr Magret Damaschke at 

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Why we need a geological Prof Mike Stephenson

An automated weather station at Allt a Mharcaidh (Source:
A microscope is a device to help us see small things easily, but a macroscope is a network of sensing devices and detectors that allows us to see big things – and how they change and evolve. Macroscopes will become more and more important in helping us manage and sustain the planet we occupy. Their development is partly driven by the need to understand planetary processes, but also by the supply of ever cheaper and more sophisticated sensors, better telemetry and raw computing power.

Atmosphere and ocean macroscopes

Perhaps the most obvious macroscopes in use at the moment are those that sense the atmosphere and the oceans. The sensitivity of the meteorological macroscope – the network of sensors that keeps track of the changing atmosphere - and the powerful computing and models that crunch the data - provide us with more and more accurate weather forecasts. The UK’s Met Office produces forecasts using software known as the Unified Model run on one of the world’s most power computers. A 36 hour forecast for weather is produced for the UK and surroundings, a 48 hour forecast for Europe and the North Atlantic, and a 144 hour forecast for the globe.

Ocean monitoring is also well-established. Ocean-scanning satellites map ocean-surface topography caused by ocean currents, and ocean warming and cooling. Other satellite instruments measure the direction and magnitude of the effect of wind on the sea surface, surface water temperature, the distribution of chlorophyll, and precipitation over the ocean. Ocean research vessels and drifting and anchored buoys measure temperature, salinity and currents in the upper water layers. Tide gauges measure variations in monthly and shorter-period mean sea level. These measurements and observations help us to understand the changing oceans, for example variations in the Indian Ocean monsoon and droughts, connections between oceanic and atmospheric processes, and the ocean carbon cycle. They also help us to keep track of debris including the ever-increasing amounts of plastic in our oceans.

The internet of things

Macroscopes are also appearing in the built environment through the ever-increasing numbers of sensors in buildings and human infrastructure. The internet of things is a macroscope of physical ‘smart devices’ including buildings, vehicles and other items containing electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity. These can collect and exchange data, and be controlled remotely across networks, so data about the physical world can be recorded without human intervention. In practice this means, for example, that smart electric power grids can manage themselves to adjust to power demand; similarly ‘smart homes’ can manage power use better.

The geological macroscope

The Cheshire Energy Research Field Site as part of UKGEOS
Geologists have been slower to take up the technology of sensors, telemetry and related computing, except in specific fields such as volcanology, seismology and hydrocarbon exploration. But geoscience is poised to develop more comprehensive macroscopes that could monitor groundwater supply, groundwater flooding, coastal salt groundwater intrusion, cliff falls and erosion around our coasts - as well as effects that climate change might have on the landscape or such built infrastructure as railway embankments. Geological macroscopes will help us build better models for subsurface developments in cities and rural areas, for example geothermal for heating and air conditioning, gas storage, compressed air energy storage, and carbon capture and storage. They may also help us
understand the ecologies that exist below the surface and the contributions that the subsurface biota make to the atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere.

The technology is getting better all the time: sensors better suited to the underground, better computer visualisation of the underground, and better telemetry. The BGS’ UK Geoenergy Observatories (UKGEOS) project is, at this very moment, establishing two sites with sophisticated subsurface equipment to keep track of groundwater, seismicity and ground motion amongst many other things.

Why is the geological macroscope so important?

Over the last few centuries, technology has lifted living standards and health, but has also placed humankind at odds with its environment, perhaps most notably with the large-scale adoption of fossil fuels. But it has also recently delivered the means to help us to adapt better through helping us monitor, measure and understand the environment. The ability to intervene in an intelligent way to reduce climate change, or better adapt, can only come from a greater understanding of Earth processes. Meteorological and oceanographic measuring help us understand only parts of the system. For example, understanding rainfall processes is critical, but understanding how rainfall becomes groundwater is just as important and how groundwater behaves is important too. As sea level rises with climate change, being able to measure and understand coastal salt groundwater intrusion will be vital for the millions of people that live along coasts. For those that may rely more heavily in the future on groundwater because of reduced surface flows due to climate change – for example in sub-Saharan Africa - this understanding may be a matter of survival. Climate change may also affect the integrity of human infrastructure such as embankments, cuttings and foundations. Stray gases from underground hydrocarbon extraction need to be monitored. If low temperature geothermal is extracted below our cities for heating homes, we will need to know how sustainable that heat is.

Coupled models

I think geoscientists and organisations like geological surveys will play an important part in establishing the geological macroscope. This will extend the concept of volcanological and seismological monitoring and critical zone observatories to a wider range of subsurface monitoring and observing and, critically, work towards coupling subsurface computer models with those of the atmosphere and oceans.

If you are interested in the wider geology – energy – climate nexus, including the geological macroscope, read my new book, available from Elsevier, Amazon and (shortly) online through Elsevier’s ScienceDirect.

Prof Mike Stephenson is the Director of Science and Technology at BGS.