Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Geochemistry and Health in the Kenyan Rift Michael Watts, Diana Menya and Odipo Osano

The Inorganic Geochemistry team within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (CEG) has, with partners from Moi University and the University of Eldoret (UoE) recently completed another round of environmental and human biomonitoring sampling in West Kenya, ranging from the tea estates in Nandi Hills and Kericho, as well as the sugar cane belt across Kisumu County. This study started by joining research led by Dr Diana Menya at Moi University (CNN article) and Dr Valerie McCormack from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) are studying the high incidence of esophageal squamous cell cancer (ESCC) in the western part of Kenya including the Great Rift valley region. It is the 8th most common cancer by incidence worldwide and in Kenya it is the most common cancer in men and third most common in women. Initially the environmental survey was targeted at complementing a case-control study being conducted by Moi-IARC in several counties around Eldoret to provide a measure of environmental and dietary factors (see previous blog), alongside various causal factors that are now under investigation – consumption of a high ethanol traditional alcoholic brew, chang’aa  or ‘kill me quick', cigarette smoking and hot tea drinking, but they are unlikely to fully explain the burden.

Essentially, this project sets out to demonstrate the value of cross-disciplinary collaboration between epidemiologists, health practitioners, biostatisticians, geochemists, farmers and local agricultural extension workers. A great deal of interest was created amongst the communities who welcomed the research and could provide useful local knowledge with respect to farming and local health issues.

Tea estates in Nandi Hills and 800m drop down from Nandi into Kisumu County - sugar belt.
Over the past two years, with support from the BGS-ODA programme and CEG, the targets have widened to the collection of urine samples to provide a simple measure of population health status for micronutrients-MN’s essential to health (e.g. iodine, selenium) and potentially harmful elements-PHE’s (e.g. arsenic, chromium). Additional information is collected alongside drinking water, such as usage, reliability and source data that will supplement drinking water supply data from teams working across Africa led by Prof. Alan MacDonald – integration of datasets.  Training has also been a key theme of the overall project, both for environmental/laboratory scientists from UoE and Public Health Officers (PHO) from each County Ministry of Health, to improve local capacity and build long-term partnerships to exploit funding opportunities. Overall, the quality assurance processes are repeatedly reinforced, from the point of planning sample collection, through collection of data and samples in the field, their preservation and maintaining the integrity of the sample until return to the laboratory at UoE or BGS for analyses. Ensuring a traceable audit trail from collection to reporting of data to enable reliable interpretation of data and reporting of data to local Ministry of Agriculture extension services and communication via PHO’s and joint publication in peer reviewed literature.  Ultimately the training approach and transfer of surplus laboratory equipment from BGS and UK research partners will help in the teaching activities at UoE to develop local laboratory capability and systems to provide confidence in data output.  Training in field activities has allowed us to scale up field collections cost effectively, but importantly forge strong partnerships.

So what are we collecting?

At each site we capture data on field sheets a range of data relating to the land-use, crops grown, drinking water source/usage and any local health problems (e.g. ESCC, goitre), along with soil, a panel of crops grown and eaten from the garden or farm, drinking water and a urine sample. The latter often results in some giggling, but nearly always enthusiastic participation, despite the potential embarrassment.  We had three vehicles out in the field on predetermined routes to coordinate daily collections, often at difficult to reach places, but thankfully the weather held and many roads although difficult were passable. Of course, the entry point led by the PHO’s and often the drivers (they have a wider range of language skills) is invaluable in explaining what we are doing and why, in order to gain permission from participants at each site and can often result in a deluge of local information. In fact, we have rarely experienced a negative response, rather a great deal of interest and help.  The challenge will be how we report data back in an appropriate format.  

Sampling in hard to reach places in Nandi hills where rapid changes from forest to farming taking place.

Wider uses for data

The collection points rather than being led by the location of ESCC case-control sites has taken on a spatial link across each county, simply driven by spatial coverage where safe access is possible or where populations reside in the rural community (e.g. cannot access sugar cane estates, rainforest).  In addition, we have incorporated into planning collection sites published soil chemistry parameters. Overall, data will be useful to agricultural extension officers to provide advice to farmers on soil management, to PHO’s in gaining datasets to estimate health status from a sample population within each county (e.g. micronutrient deficiencies, exposure to PHE’s). In the coming years, IARC-Moi University will use the environmental data/dietary intakes to support spot sampling for ESCC-control collection points, utilising the trained field personnel.

From L-R: Collection of data; One of the field teams (includes Diana Menya).
Data is already showing potential links through to developing other projects with UoE-Moi University, along the lines of pollution pathways, soil erosion (recent Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF) bid), links through to Lake Victoria pollution and impact on fisheries/aquaculture. In fact, Andy Marriott stayed on in Kenya for another week to continue his Newton funded grant partnered with UoE, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Institute (KMFRI) and Ministry of Agriculture/Fisheries to sample fish, sediments and water whilst based on the KMFRI boat – blog to follow. Training in both directions has progressed, in that Olivier Humphrey (CEG/BGS University Funding Initiative (BUFI) PhD) joined the team for land-based sampling for a second time and very competently led one of the three field vehicles, collated all of the database information and provided training in the labs to UoE staff and a mix of 6 under-/postgraduate students – blog to follow.  Tom Kelly also joined Andy on the KMFRI field boat for his first BGS overseas trip.

Laboratory training at University of Eldoret.
Efforts to develop project partnerships and two-way exchanges of staff and students has been recognised in that suggestions for an MOU have been discussed with the VC and DVC for Research and extension services at UoE. The coming months will see how we consolidate on the partnership and friendships built so far. I say friendships, because whilst we all recognise the value of what we are doing, the long days in the field on bumpy and dusty roads, plans not always surviving intact, the shared experience of tiredness and sometimes frustration is always backed up by lots of laughter - which is what you remember when leaving Africa.

Dr Michael Watts is the Head of Inorganic Geochemistry at the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry at the British Geological Survey. Dr Diana Menya is a Senior Lecturer with the School of Public Health, Moi University, Kenya. Professor Odipo Osano is from the School of Environmental Sciences, University of Eldoret, Kenya.

Acknowledgements to wider team:

University of Eldoret: Jackson Masai, Charles Owano, David Samoie, Prof. Odipo Osano, Doreen Meso. Many thanks to student volunteers led by Melvine Anyango and Job Isaboke for help in the field and lab
Moi University: Dr Diana Menya, Esilaba Anabwani - ESCCAPE, Eldoret (Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma Africa Prevention Effort), Amimo Anabwani- ESCCAPE, Eldoret
British Geological Survey: Dr Michael Watts, Olivier Humphrey – CEG PhD student, Dr Andy Marriott
Public Health Officers Many thanks to the PHO’s from Kisumu, Kericho and Nandi Counties, some of whom were volunteer PHO’s serving their community and/or trainees building up work experience.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Last leg of ORCHESTRA cruise part 5…by Melanie Leng

Mel on board the RRS James Clark Ross
Melanie Leng is currently taking part in an expedition to the Southern Ocean as part of  ORCHESTRA (Ocean Regulation of Climate by Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transports), a NERC funded programme with partners at the British Antarctic Survey (lead), the National Oceanography Centre, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and many more including BGS. Here she updates us as she nears the end of her expedition on the RRS James Clark Ross…

We have been at sea for around 3 weeks on the RRS James Clark Ross crossing the Drake Passage from the Burwood Bank (an undersea shallow ridge off eastern South America) to Elephant Island (off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula). All the work has been successfully completed. Personally I have collected over 600 water samples (with help from my overnight buddy, Julia Rulent from the Universities of Bangor and Liverpool) for oxygen and carbon isotope analysis, and around 250 for radiocarbon analysis. These samples are just one leg of the 5 year ORCHESTRA research programme to try to understand the structure of the Southern Ocean and more importantly what changes are taking place within the ocean because of human impact. These samples were taken from over 40 casts of the CTD (see blog part 4) from as deep at 5km in the ocean. On board others from NERC research institutes and UK universities are measuring salinity, temperature, nutrients, carbon, plastics, silicon and nitrogen isotopes, CFCs, and SF6. Many measurements have been made on board with instruments that the scientists have brought a long, the instruments strapped to benches in the ship’s laboratories, to stop them falling off as the ship rocks and rolls. In the 3 weeks on board I can’t remember a calm period, several hurricanes have passed over us bringing massive ocean swells and waves.

There has been a lot of work done, round the clock sampling in periods of relative stability, to make up for time lost due to the weather. The highs include 2 humpbacked whales (mother and calf) visiting us, the mother was enormous, perhaps 12-14m in length. The whales had a distinctive body shape, with long pectoral fins and a knobbly head, they repeatedly lifted their heads out of the water to take a look at the orange high visibility clothing clad scientists on deck, and did several back flips and tail whips. The whales were making their way south in the Southern Ocean to feed off krill and small fish, before returning to tropical waters to breed and give birth, where they live off their fat reserves built up in the south. In the past these amazing creatures have been a target for the whaling industry, and have been on the brink of extinction before protocols were put in place to limit whale fishing. The humpback whale population is increasing but still fishing gear, collisions with ships and noise pollution continue to impact the species.

One day we were also escorted for several hours by a pod of 30 or so pilot whales. It was a mixed group with several large animals of 6-8m, and many calves. The pilot whales frolicked in the waves, enjoying the speed that the currents afforded them, occasionally they stopped and peered at us, lifting their bulbous heads out of the water. With the pod were small clusters of penguins, visible as they surfed the waves on their hunt for small fish. Albatross and petrels follow the ship all the time, possibly for refuse or the small marine animals that are brought to the surface by the motion of the ship, or perhaps they are taking advantage of air currents produced by the ship...

From L-R: Pilot dolphins enjoying the surf; A humpback whale tail whip.
In a few hours we will be docked at Stanley on the Falkland Islands, where we will spend a couple of days demobilizing the ship, taking inventories of samples, packing up the equipment, and generally clearing up for the next cruise. The RSS James Clark Ross will be leaving Stanley in early December with a new group of scientists working on a project called ICEBERGS, they will be travelling along the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula, to see how rapidly retreating glaciers are changing the environment there. They will also be collecting gravity cores to put recent ice shelf retreat into historical (Holocene) context. You can follow them on: Instagram: developingoceans and twitter @ICEBERGS_JCR.

Overall its been a successful research cruise, in no small way down to Dr Yvonne Firing for her leadership and management. Also thanks to the dedicated crew on board, engineers, deck crew and stewards who all played their part.

I am tweeting @MelJLeng and @ORCHESTRAPROJ and Facebooking (Orchestra project) during this trip, a full list of blogs from the expediation are available from the page.

Melanie Leng is the Science Director for Geochemistry at the BGS and the BGS lead scientist for ORCHESTRA. 

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Using workshops to spark ideas: collaborative working in the Lyell Centre…by Amelia Baptie

Workshop attendees getting to know each other.
On 24th October staff and students were invited to a joint workshop between BGS, the Lyell Centre and the Heriot Watt University School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences (MACS). The aim of the workshop was for BGS and Lyell Centre informatics staff and developers to meet each other, and MACS students and staff, with a view to thinking about areas where we can work in collaboration.

Flash talks to spark ideas

The day was broken down in to two parts during which the 25 attendees could present flash talks on their area of expertise and ongoing work. The morning was dedicated to Maths, Modelling and Statistics and the afternoon focused on Computer Science and Informatics. Each of the flash talks was designed to prompt and spark ideas for potential future collaborations between our staff and organisations.

The BGS team presented talks on geomagnetic field modelling and the ongoing role and work of the Informatics department including data delivery, data science, geosemantics, European and International collaborations, commercial and overseas development work. 

Learning about each other

It was fascinating to hear about the work of our neighbouring colleagues. Having the opportunity to hear about (for example) differential equations, robotic bar tenders, mathematical modelling for disease in plants, humans and animals, identifying tourist landmarks using spatial and semantic clustering and the integration of heterogeneous data for crisis management is not something that we have the opportunity to do very often!

Overlapping research

A lively lunch and coffee session enabled everyone to get together to get to know each other and to note down areas of overlapping research and work interest. We had a large collection of ideas on post it notes by the end of the day. 

Ideas for the future

Ideas for potential collaborations include building augmented reality apps, time series data analysis, human computer interaction for mobile and the use of data for crisis management. These are just a few of the 30+ ideas that came out of the workshop.

We would like to say a big thank you to the Heriot Watt Mathematical and Computer Sciences staff for hosting this event and we look forward to getting again together in the future for events such as a proposed hackathon.

As for the collaborations that come out of this workshop, please watch this space!

Monday, 19 November 2018

Learning about cascading hazards at the iRALL School in Jim Whiteley

Earlier this year, I wrote about my experiences of attending an interdisciplinary workshop in Mexico, and how these approaches foster a rounded approach to addressing the challenges in communicating risk in earth sciences research. In the field of geohazards, this approach is increasingly becoming adopted due to the concept of “cascading hazards”, or in other words, recognising that when a natural hazard causes a human disaster it often does so as part of a chain of events, rather than as a standalone incident. This is especially true in my field of research; landslides. Landslides are, after all, geological phenomena studied by a wide range of “geoscientists” (read: geologists, geomorphologists, remote sensors, geophysicists, meteorologists, environmental scientists, risk assessors, geotechnical and civil engineers, disaster risk-reduction agencies, the list goes on). Sadly, these natural hazards affect many people across the globe, and we have had several shocking reminders in recent months of how landslides are an inextricable hazard in areas prone to earthquakes and extremes of precipitation.

The iRALL, or the ‘International Research Association on Large Landslides’, is a consortium of researchers from across the world trying to adopt this approach to understanding cascading hazards, with a particular focus on landslides. I was lucky enough to attend the ‘iRALL School 2018: Field data collection, monitoring and modelling of large landslides’ in October this year, hosted by the State Key Laboratory of Geohazard Prevention and Geoenvironment Protection (SKLGP) at Chengdu University of Technology (CDUT), Chengdu, China. The school was attended by over 30 postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers working in fields related to landslide and earthquake research. The diversity of students, both in terms of subjects and origins, was staggering: geotechnical and civil engineers from the UK, landslide specialists from China, soil scientists from Japan, geologists from the Himalaya region, remote sensing researchers from Italy, earthquake engineers from South America, geophysicists from Belgium; and that’s just some of the students! In the two weeks we spent in China, we received presentations from a plethora of global experts, delivering lectures in all aspects of landslide studies, including landslide failure mechanisms, hydrology, geophysics, modelling, earthquake responses, remote sensing, and runout analysis amongst others. Having such a well-structured program of distilled knowledge delivered by these world-class researchers would have been enough, but one of the highlights of the school was the fieldwork attached to the lectures.

The scale of landslides affecting Beichuan County is difficult to grasp: in this
photo of the Tangjiwan landslide, the red arrow points to a one story building.
 This landslide was triggered by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake,
and reactivated by heavy rainfall in 2016.
The first four days of the school were spent at SKLGP at CDUT, learning about the cascading hazard chain caused by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, another poignant event which demonstrates the interconnectivity of natural hazards. On 12th May 2008, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake occurred in Beichuan County, China’s largest seismic event for over 50 years. The earthquake triggered the immediate destabilisation of more than 60,000 landslides, and affected an area of over 35,000 km2; the largest of these, the Daguangbao landslide, had an estimated volume of 1.2 billion m3 (Huang and Fan, 2013). It is difficult to comprehend numbers on these scales, but here’s an attempt: 35,000 km2 is an area bigger than the Netherlands, and 1.2 billion m3 is the amount of material you would need to fill the O2 Arena in London 430 times over. These comparisons still don’t manage to convey the scale of the devastation of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, and so after the first four days in Chengdu, it was time to move three hours north to Beichuan County, to see first-hand the impacts of the earthquake from a decade ago. We would spend the next ten days here, continuing a series of excellent lectures punctuated with visits to the field to see and study the landscape features that we were learning about in the classroom.

The most sobering memorial of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake is the ‘Beichuan Earthquake Historic Site’, comprising the stabilised remains of collapsed and partially-collapsed buildings of the town of Old Beichuan. This town was situated close to the epicentre of the Wenchuan earthquake, and consequently suffered huge damage during the shaking, as well as being impacted by two large landslides which buried buildings in the town; one of these landslides buried a school with over 600 students and teachers inside. Today, a single basketball hoop in the corner of a buried playground is all that identifies it as once being a school. In total, around 20,000 people died in a town with a population of 30,000. Earth science is an applied field of study, and as such, researchers are often more aware of the impact of their research on the public than in some other areas of science. Despite this, we don’t always come this close to the devastation that justifies the importance of our research in the first place.

River erosion damaging check-dams designed to stop debris flows is still a problem in Beichuan County, a decade after the
 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.
It may be a cliché, but seeing is believing, and the iRALL School provided many opportunities to see the lasting impacts of large slope failures, both to society and the landscape. The risk of debris flows resulting from the blocking of rivers by landslides (a further step in the cascading hazard chain surrounding earthquakes and landslides) continues to be a hazard threatening people in Beichuan County today. Debris flow check-dams installed after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake are still being constantly maintained or replaced to provide protection to vulnerable river valleys, and the risk of reactivation of landslides in a seismically active area is always present. But this is why organisations such as the iRALL, and their activities such as the iRALL School are so important; it is near impossible to gain a true understanding of the impact of cascading hazards without bringing the classroom and the field together. The same is true when trying to work on solutions to lessen the impact of these cascading hazard chains. It is only by collaborating with people from a broad range of backgrounds, skills and experiences can we expect to come up with effective solutions that are more than the sum of their parts.

Jim Whiteley is a PhD student funded through the BGS University Funding Initiative (BUFI). The aim of BUFI is to encourage and fund science at the PhD level. At present there are around 130 PhD students who are based at about 35 UK universities and research institutes. BUFI do not fund applications from individuals.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Sampling starts on the RRS James Clark Ross: ORCHESTRA part 4…by Melanie Leng

Melanie Leng is currently part taking in an expedition to the Southern Ocean as part of  ORCHESTRA (Ocean Regulation of Climate by Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transports), a NERC funded programme with partners at the British Antarctic Survey (lead), the National Oceanography Centre, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and many more including BGS and several UK universities. This is the fourth blog about her trip where the work begins on the RRS James Clark Ross…

Cruising track from the south from the
Burwood Bank (an undersea shallow ridge
off eastern South America) to Elephant
Island (off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula).
We are currently cruising south from the Falkland Islands, crossing the Drake Passage from the Burwood Bank (an undersea shallow ridge off eastern South America) to Elephant Island (off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula). We are repeating some established measurements of ocean temperature, salinity, oxygen, and currents that have been made with support from NERC funding since the early 1990’s but we are also adding some new novel measurements, including O, C, N and Si isotopes, nutrients, and micro plastics to help us understand the changes in the ocean. Most of the measurements are made on discrete water samples collected from depth profiles (down to the sea bed which in places is 5km below the sea surface) taken at regular distances along the transect. The water samples are taken using an instrument called a CTD. A CTD is an instrument used to measure the Conductivity (used to determine salinity), Temperature, and pressure of seawater (the D stands for "depth," which is closely related to pressure) of the ocean but also to collect discrete water samples.  The water samples are taken using a rosette or carousel of “Niskin” bottles. Niskin bottles can be opened at both ends. The open bottle is lowered into the ocean on a wire until it reaches a certain depth and then the bottle is closed by a weighted trigger that is sent down the cable from the surface. Our Niskin bottles are set up in a circular rosette of 24 bottles attached around the CTD instrument. This allows us to take samples at different water depths in a way that seals off the sample and allows it to be brought to the surface without mixing with water from different depths. Getting water samples from different depths in the ocean is important to understand how the water chemistry and physical properties changes with depth.

The CDT (all-women!) sampling team
While the scientist work we have a dedicated crew on board that support us, for the sampling we are indebted to the engineers and deck crew for help with the CTD, as well as those responsible for the successful operation of the ship.  

I am tweeting @MelJLeng and @ORCHESTRAPROJ and Facebooking (Orchestra project) during this trip, as well as updating the BGS and when I have time.

Melanie Leng is the Science Director for Geochemistry at the BGS and the BGS lead scientist for ORCHESTRA. 

Friday, 9 November 2018

On board the RRS James Clark Ross: ORCHESTRA part 3…by Melanie Leng

Melanie Leng is currently part taking in an expedition to the Southern Ocean as part of ORCHESTRA (Ocean Regulation of Climate by Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transports), a NERC funded programme with partners at the British Antarctic Survey (lead), the National Oceanography Centre, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and many more including BGS. This is the third blog about her trip where she updates us on her arrival on the RRS James Clark Ross…

We arrived on the RRS James Clark Ross a couple of days ago to begin the mobilisation (ie organizing our equipment that we will be using to make measurements and take samples) before we set sail. The equipment has been organised over the summer by numerous science teams (to name a few: BAS, NOC, BGS, University of Exeter, University of Southampton) and loaded onto the ship while it was docked in Harwich. Hundreds of boxes from numerous science teams were stowed in the hold. We had to bring all the equipment up to the dedicated laboratories that we will need for sampling across the Drake Passage. Much equipment remains in the hold for subsequent cruises, following this one, before the ship heads back to the UK. The equipment in the labs has been securely strapped down as we are anticipating rough seas. For my isotope analysis, I will take bottles of ocean water for analysis back in the BGS laboratories. Others make measurements on the ship, as the analysis are either relatively easy or the samples will not preserve till we can get them back to our laboratories in the UK.

We are currently cruising south from the Falkland Islands and will be crossing the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula in a few days, repeating some measurements of ocean temperature, salinity, oxygen, and currents that have been made with support from NERC funding since the early 1990’s. We will also be adding new novel measurements, including O, C, N and Si isotopes and micro plastics to the arsenal of information we will be gathering to help us understand the changes in the ocean.

The samples I am collecting are for oxygen and carbon isotopes. The oxygen isotope data will tell us about how much freshwater to seawater there is at particular locations (which will help us understand melting of the Antarctic ice mass and therefore heat) and the carbon isotopes will tell us where the carbon is from and how the ocean uses the carbon. These measurements are particularly important to understand because of the significant changes the Earth is experiencing during the Anthropocene period we are living in.

While the scientist work we have a dedicated crew on board that support us, these are engineers, deck crew and stewards to name a few. The crew, often overlooked, have significant responsibilities which are integral to the successful operation of the ship and our research.

So far the weather has been good to us, blue skies and calm seas, hopefully it will continue!

I am tweeting @MelJLeng and @ORCHESTRAPROJ and Facebooking (Orchestra project) during this trip, as well as updating the BGS and when I have time.
Melanie Leng is the Science Director for Geochemistry at the BGS and the BGS lead scientist for ORCHESTRA.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

I am in Stanley: ORCHESTRA part 2... by Melanie Leng

Melanie Leng is currently part taking in an expedition to the Southern Ocean as part of ORCHESTRA (Ocean Regulation of Climate by Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transports), a NERC funded programme with partners at the British Antarctic Survey (lead), the National Oceanography Centre, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and many more including BGS. Here she updates us on her journey so far...

Image (clockwise from top left): Stanley main street, a working UK phone box,
the jetty from the Falklands museum, daffodils flowering in the cemetery,
sulphur loving lichens on the sea wall.
After a long flight to the Falkland Islands, via Cape Verde, we (about 30 scientists and logistical staff) are waiting to board the RRS James Clarke Ross currently docked in the Falkland main port, Stanley. Stanley is a vibrant little town of around 2000 people laid out in a grid pattern along the sea shore, facing into the midday sun the town slopes up a hill. The mainly wood and tin homes and businesses have brightly coloured roofs and sit amongst historic cottages and administrative buildings from the time of the main settlers in the 1800’s. Today the weather is very spring like, around 5oC but bight and sunny. It doesn’t feel much different to the UK but the daffodils flowering in the cemetery prove that its spring here and not autumn! Tomorrow we board the ship to begin the mobilisation of the equipment, ready to set sail by the end of the week.

Since this is geoblogy, a bit about the rocks! So far I have only seen quartzite and basalt. The quartzite is a hard, grey, layered rock (Silurian and Devonian sandstones?) which outcrops within Stanley. Many of the older houses are built from it. The basalts sit on top of the quartzites in the surrounding hills - and are therefore younger. Between 1996 and 1998 the BGS re-surveyed the islands and produced the first modern geological map.

I am tweeting @MelJLeng and @ORCHESTRAPROJ and Facebooking (Orchestra project) during this trip, as well as updating the BGS Geoblogy and when I have time.

Melanie Leng is the Science Director for Geochemistry at the BGS and the BGS lead scientist for ORCHESTRA.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Do you have an image that means geological macroscope?…by Thomas Galley

Presentation slide at the Cheshire Energy Research Field Site technical briefing
I’ve been afforded the space and time to develop my interest in visual communications during my career in communications and marketing. Also, I love a challenge. So you can see why I jumped at the chance to respond to an interesting request from Mike Stephenson, our Director of Science and Technology at BGS. He contacted me just ahead of the UK Geoenergy Observatories technical briefing. This project will establish new centres of world-leading research into the subsurface environment and the knowledge they generate will contribute to the responsible development of new energy technologies both here in the UK and internationally. The request went something along the lines of:

“Do you have any images of compressed air energy storage?”

I hadn’t.

Mike was preparing his presentation for the event which was to be held at Jodrell Bank and attended by scientists from across the UK and representatives of businesses and industry in Cheshire.

As it was a Friday afternoon, any excuse to drag myself away from my desk was very welcome so I walked over to go and find out exactly what was required. I spied an opportunity to create some really useful visual assets for use in UK Geoenergy Observatories communications. I thought that maybe they could be packaged up for use elsewhere too.

The images that Mike had at his disposal just didn’t seem suitable for the presentation. We had a mix of googled images, BGS graphics and images, and diagrams from various other sources. When we looked at some of the icons that already existed on the internet, it was clear that many of them had been designed to convey concepts through the lens of environmental issues, or the energy industry. There weren’t many icons covering geology or themes from a geological perspective. This meant it was hard to design with consistency, and it was frustratingly hard to achieve a professional looking and sufficiently simple set of slides. The effect was a kind of visual clutter that could act as a distraction from the key messages that Mike wanted to convey.

Simple is hard to do.

We quickly sketched out a few ideas. It was decided that I would work with Debbie Rayner, one of our Graphic Designers at BGS, to produce a set of icons. These would be used as a kind of visual shorthand for some of the concepts that Mike wanted to convey, and we would use them in the slideshow that accompanied his presentation. We didn’t have much time.

It was time to write a design brief and get designing.

Tea break challenge

Why don’t you have a go?

You have ten minutes to complete both challenge one and challenge two.

Materials required:
Small square post-it notes (other brands of sticky adhesive notepads are available) to draw on.

Part one:
Design (draw) a way of conveying in each icon a common visual shorthand for the subsurface. Once you have refined your idea draw it on several of your post-it notes so you are ready for part two.

Part two:
Choose a few geological concepts from the following list and draw each one in to the design of one of your icons.
  • A geological macroscope
  • Seismicity
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Compressed air energy storage
  • Geothermal
  • Geological data
  • Groundwater
  • Carbon Capture and Storage
  • Geology of the UK
For the purpose of this exercise, an icon:
  • Has the minimum number of visual components required to convey the concept.
  • Has an aspect ratio of 1:1.
  • Is drawn in only one colour. For example you could use black on a white background or blue on a yellow background.
  • Does not contain any words. It should work in any language.
Now share them with your colleagues. Ask them if they can tell you what each of the icons you’ve designed means.

The delegation at the Cheshire Energy Research Field Site technical briefing.

The designs

So, now you’ve had some experience of the design process and getting feedback, this seems like a good time to see how we did.
Here’s a selection of the icons that Debbie designed:

We used a simple line: curved to denote the earth, and a non-descript building and tree as visual shorthand for the surface. This leaves plenty of space to convey each concept in the area below. The top section of each icon represents our attempt to depict an area of land that could be anywhere.

The bottom section differs each time.

Hopefully the icons convey that the compressed air, the groundwater or the hydrocarbons are underground. This is enough. The context in which the icon is placed will do the rest.

A geological macroscope

I’m particularly pleased with this icon.

It felt impossible to the concept of a geological macroscope inside an icon: The concept is defined by distributed sensors working as one instrument, positioned in arrays to optimise the collection of data. The positioning is not random, but does not adhere to an easily recognisable pattern either.

This finished design has dots to symbolise sensors. There are many of them and their situation in the design has order, but begs the question: What kind of order? This indicates a degree of complexity that is unique to the macroscope concept. It describes to some extent the design of the macroscope planned for the Cheshire Energy research Field Site, yet is non-specific enough that it could represent a future geological macroscope elsewhere.

Design decisions were made that prioritise simplicity. For example it was decided that a sensor drawn as a dot works as well as a drawing of a sensor. We also used white space to depict both the subsurface and that which is above ground: highlighting the concept being conveyed rather than burying it in the dark.

You can see for yourself how Mike used the icons in his presentation at the technical briefing here.

Download all of the icons

You can find all the icons here in the downloads section of the BGS web site.

Feel free to use these icons in your presentations or reports. We hope that they will be a useful resource for people working across the BGS, and people working with and learning about geological concepts elsewhere too.


Please consider these icons a work in progress. We know they are not perfect and we would be more than happy to hear your feedback, and any suggestions you may have for geological concepts that we haven’t covered for a future release.

Thomas Galley is the Communications and Engagement Officer for the UK Geoenergy Observatories. Please contact Thomas if you’re interested in the Observatories, or communicating ideas visually.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Hunting for critical metals in the south-west Atlantic (Part I): RSS Discovery research cruise to the Rio Grande Rise…by Paul Lusty

Location of the Rio Grande Rise and the MarineE-Tech
project research area (red box).
We departed Santos, Brazil on the RRS Discovery (DY094 cruise) on the 20 October heading to the Rio Grande Rise, which is about 1300 km offshore, in international waters. This is the second British-led cruise of the of the ‘Marine ferromanganese deposits - a major resource of E-tech elements (MarineE-tech)’ project. The project is funded by the NERC Security of Supply of Mineral Resources (SoS Minerals) Research Programme, which aims to understand ‘critical’ metal cycling and concentration in natural systems, and determine how to minimise the environmental impacts of extraction. Critical metals are mineral raw materials (e.g. cobalt, tellurium, niobium and the heavy rare earth elements) vital to technologies (e.g. components of electric vehicles: motors/batteries; renewable energy generation: photovoltaic cells, wind turbines) for transition towards a low carbon future, and for which concerns about security of supply exist. Demand for some critical metals is expected to grow by orders of magnitude as manufacturing of green or low-carbon technologies expands globally. All these materials are ultimately derived from the Earth and MarineE-tech aims to improve understanding of the geological and oceanographic processes controlling the concentration of critical metals in deep-ocean mineral deposits.

A typical example of a ferromanganese crust: the dark layer,
deposited on a sedimentary rock substrate
Some critical metals, notably cobalt and tellurium, are highly concentrated in hydrogenous ferromanganese (Fe-Mn) crusts, which form directly from seawater, on virtually any hard substrate in the oceans. They are particularly common on deep-ocean plateaus and seamounts. During 2016 the MarineE-tech project undertook the most comprehensive study of Fe-Mn crusts on a single seafloor edifice, at Tropic Seamount in the north-east tropical Atlantic. As a follow-up to the Tropic study the current expedition is investigating Fe-Mn crusts on the Rio Grande Rise (RGR) in the south-west Atlantic.

The RGR is the largest bathymetric feature on the oceanic part of the South American plate and is located about 2000 km west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The RGR is divided into a number of sub-regions and is intersected by a major north-west south-east-trending submarine graben structure. The current expedition focuses on a small area on the western side of the RGR, investigating the 25 km wide graben and its adjacent Fe-Mn crust covered plateaus. The origin of the RGR is the subject of continued debate. It is an aseismic, volcanic oceanic plateau that is likely to have formed on or close to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and may have a common origin with the Walvis Ridge, which extends off the coast of Africa. Basalt ages suggests these deep-sea plateaus principally formed between 89 and 78 million years ago. 

Extensive Fe-Mn crust deposits are known from the RGR and the area is the focus of commercial mineral exploration. The study area was selected to improve understanding of the local-scale controls on Fe-Mn crust formation and metal concentration, and associated marine ecosystems. The Discovery cruise involves researchers from the National Oceanography Centre, British Geological Survey, University of Edinburgh and the University of São Paulo. We have a diverse range of scientists on board, including geologists, biologists, geochemists and oceanographers. Pierre Josso from BGS, a MarineE-tech post-doc researcher, is also attending the cruise. Pierre’s research focuses on improving age models for Fe-Mn crusts by combining a range of techniques including cobalt-chronometry, LA-ICP-MS studies and Os isotopes.

From L-R: The RRS Discovery preparing to depart from Santos Brazil. The autonomous underwater vehicle Autosub 6000
 is installed in its launch and recovery system on the back deck; The screens in the main laboratory on the RRS Discovery
 from which HyBIS is controlled and the mission is run.
A joint University of São Paulo and National Oceanography Centre research cruise to the RGR in January 2018 provides important background information for planning the current expedition, including ship-based bathymetry (25 m resolution) and data obtained from a number of dredge lines and gravity coring. During the current cruise we plan to examine two areas identified by the previous work in much greater detail. We will be mapping the seafloor to identify areas of Fe-Mn crust using the autonomous underwater vehicle Autosub 6000. This will provide high resolution swath bathymetry (1 m resolution), sidescan sonar (5 cm resolution), sub-bottom profiles (10 cm resolution) and magnetic data. This data will be interpreted on the ship and used for planning dives with the robotic underwater vehicle (HyBIS). We will undertake 12 hour missions with HyBIS to ground truth the autonomous underwater vehicle data, create geological and ecosystem maps from the high definition camera observations, and collect rock and biological samples with its manipulator arm. Seafloor dredging will be used to collect additional samples across the mapped areas. All rock and biological samples are initially processed on the ship. For the geological material, this involves photographing the samples, cutting the rocks to expose the Fe-Mn crusts and making initial sample descriptions.  We are likely to have about 14 days on station at the RGR and have 24 hours of operation on the ship to maximise the use of our time at sea and the amount of data collected. This study will provide new insights into crust formation on the RGR and allow the MarineE-tech team to make comparisons with the crusts they have studied in the north-east Atlantic.