Monday, 22 May 2017

The European Geosciences Union General Assembly, Vienna...by Jack Lacey, Melanie Leng, & Andi Smith

Welcome to EGU! Hosted at the Vienna International Centre, Austria
In April, 14,496 scientists from 107 countries participated in the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly in Vienna, Austria. Over the course of the five-day conference there were an astounding 4,849 oral and 11,312 poster presentations, with several authored by staff from the British Geological Survey. The BGS Stable Isotope Facility was represented by Jack Lacey, Melanie Leng, and Andi Smith. In this blog they report on their week at EGU and tell us about the work they presented on lake and speleothem records... 
 
This year we travelled to EGU to share new results from work carried out as part of two large international research projects, the Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project (HSPDP) and the Scientific Collaboration on Past Speciation Conditions in Lake Ohrid (SCOPSCO) project, and from a detailed speleothem record from Northern Spain.

The HSPDP looks to understand how environmental change influenced human migration out of Africa using long sediment cores recovered from five lakes in the East African Rift Valley. Our main research at the BGS Stable Isotope Facility focuses on one of these sites in particular; Chew Bahir in Ethiopia. Isotope data were used along with other measurements from international colleagues to tell us more about what has driven climate change in eastern Africa over the past 500,000 years, and what conditions were like at the origin of modern humans and their dispersal out of Africa. We are still at a relatively early stage in the project, but it looks like climate had a massive influence on the adaptability of early Homo Sapiens which may have driven them to move out of Africa.

Andi presenting his work on speleothem from Northern Spain
Moving from East Africa to the Mediterranean, Lake Ohrid on the Balkan Peninsula is one of the largest and oldest lakes in Europe, and contains many hundreds of unique species. In 2013, an ICDP drilling campaign recovered cores reaching 570 meters below the lake floor. This exceptional sediment sequence contains a continuous record of environmental change over the past 1.4 million years, and will allow us to study the influence of climate and geological events on evolution of the unique organisms in the lake. It appears that species in Ohrid are able to cope with both long-term and rapid environmental change, and unlike other old lake systems, there have been no major extinction events since the lake formed. The upper half of the core was recently the focus of an open-access special issue in the journal Biogeosciences.

Still further northward, Andi gave a talk on speleothem climate records from Cueva de Asiul in Northern Spain. This small but beautiful cave system has already provided insight into rainfall dynamics in southern Europe throughout the Holocene, in work published in Scientific Reports in 2016. However, this year’s talk focussed on the last 2000 years of the Holocene, showing a strong relationship between rainfall in northern Spain and changes in the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). It is hoped that a more detailed investigation of this speleothem will help us to understand in more detail how the NAO has changed in the past and the impact that change had on different areas of Europe. Interestingly the speleothem also reveals a period of major environmental change around AD 1557, possibly recording major deforestation linked to industrialisation on the northern Spanish coast from which the Spanish Armada was launched only a few decades later.

Catch up with #EGU2017 on Twitter
EGU is a very engaging conference and a great place for geoscientists to meet, and share and discuss their research. If you would like to find out more about any of the research above, contact information and links to our EGU abstracts are included below.

Jack Lacey @JackHLacey
Melanie Leng @MelJLeng
Andi Smith @AndiSmith10



Friday, 21 April 2017

BGS to release more open data...by Gerry Wildman

OpenGeoscience: Understand more about the geology of the UK

BGS is committed to releasing as much information as possible as ‘open’. For us this means that anyone can use and re-use data for free under the terms of the Open Government Licence. As with many other open data providers, all we ask is that any use of BGS data is acknowledged as such. We hope that by releasing information as ‘open’ we can encourage wider use, and that more people learn about the geology of the UK and it’s impacts on our lives, as well as to stimulate innovation and encourage the creation of products and services.

The BGS OpenGeoscience website. 
Since 2009 our platform for releasing data has been through ‘OpenGeoscience’. OpenGeoscience includes a variety of free to view/download resources including; access to 1:50 000 scale geological data, over a million boreholes logs, scanned versions of its map catalogue, access to our vast photo library and a host of web services and applications.

So far, OpenGeoscience has been a huge success. We’ve had 250,000 downloads of our iGeology smartphone app, have jumped from delivering just a few thousand borehole scans, to over 1 million a year and see around 450,000 hits to our 1: 50,000 scale web map service each month. However, we want to go even further and have been working on a host of new open products and services for 2017. Highlights include:
  • Ability to view the full text from a wide range of BGS publications, including our memoirs and regional guides.
  • Downloadable, coarse-scale versions of our popular hazard datasets for Great Britain: GeoSure subsidence models and mining hazard (not including coal).
  • Open versions of our environmental chemistry GBASE data for the UK and the thickness of superficial deposits model for Great Britain.
  • Summary information and locations of landslides in Great Britain.
If you are unable to find what you’re looking for in OpenGeoscience, it may still fall under our commercial services. BGS reinvests the income from our chargeable services into maintaining both our commercial and open products. This sustainable business model helps us to continue to provide free access to our wide collection of geological data and information.

A selection of what is available on OpenGeoscience. From L-R: BGS Geology 625k,  G-BASE geochemical data and
offshore geochemistry.
We’re always keen for you to share your open data requests and stories with us. Contact us at digitaldata@bgs.ac.uk or follow us on twitter @BGSdata.


Friday, 14 April 2017

7 'eggs'-tremely tenuous links between geology and Easter...by Kirstin Lemon

As a geologist working a great deal with the public, I pride myself in being able to bring geology into absolutely everything. After all, geology is literally the foundation of everything! But when it came to writing a blog on the links between geology and Easter though, I have to admit that it wasn't as easy as it first appeared. So, I think you'll agree that some of these links between Easter and geology are somewhat tenuous, but it's all a bit of fun and it will hopefully provide a little bit of light entertainment after all of those Easter eggs.

1. Easter Island

Located in the SE Pacific Ocean, Easter Island is a remote and isolated island about 3,700km west of Chile. It is famed for its massive stone carvings of human-like figures known as Moai (more on those later) but it's story goes back much further. The island is an amalgamation of three overlapping shield volcanoes that erupted between about 780,000 and 110,000 years ago, and is part of a 2,500km-long chain of underwater volcanoes called the Easter-Salas y Gomez Seamount Chain.

2. Rano Raraku

Moai at Rano Raraku, Easter Island (Image: Wikipedia).
Rano Raruku is just one of several volcanic craters found on Easter Island (or Rapa Nui as it is also known). It is from this location that the majority of the famous stone carvings originate, and where the tuff (essentially consolidated volcanic ash) was quarried and sculpted before being transported elsewhere. Only around 50 of the 900 statues were carved from other rocks, namely basalt, trachyte and scoria, all of which were available locally. Rano Raraku is known as the Moai quarry and there are still nearly 400 statues remaining.

3. Easter Plate

We're nearly finished with Easter Island, but we couldn't move on without talking about the Easter Plate, a small tectonic plate or microplate in the SE Pacific. The Easter Plate is bounded on the west by the Pacific Plate and to the east by the Nazca Plate that are pulling apart from each other at the East Pacific Rise. The Easter Plate is not surprisingly named after Easter Island which is to the east of the microplate on the Nazca Plate.

4. EGG

So it's not a real Easter egg, or even a regular egg but 'Embed Google and Geology' (or EGG for short) allows you to use BGS data to create a custom geology or earthquakes map of the UK and embed it in your own website. Advanced users can even customise their maps by changing the size, show surface geology or earthquakes, change to map from satellite to road maps, and change the centre and map zoom. This neat, self-contained packaged is an easy way to add geology information to your website.

5. Easter Ross

The James Hutton Building with feature wall to the right of the entrance.
A loosely defined area to the east of Ross in the Highlands, Scotland, Easter Ross has been the focus of many geological papers and other publications. Some of its best known geology is its Middle Devonian sandstone that has been used in the façade of the James Hutton Building at the BGS headquarters in Keyworth (and part of the Geological Walk). The building incorporates a 'feature wall' with a stylized representation of Siccar Point, the location with which James Hutton is synonymous. Instead of the Upper Devonian Stratheden Group sandstones found at the famous locality in Berwickshire though, the 'feature wall' uses sandstone from the Black Isle Sandstone Group, from Balaldie Quarry, Fearn, in Easter Ross.

6. Rabbit Ears Peak

I couldn't let an Easter geology blog go without mentioning some form of Easter 'Bunny'. In this case, it is Rabbit Ears Peak, in the Rocky Mountains of northern Colorado, USA. The name comes from the distinctive double towers that resemble rabbit ears made up of volcanic material that erupted around 30 million years ago. Subsequent erosion has sculpted the peak into the 'rabbit ears' that you can see today. Unfortunately, I have no images that I can freely share but if you want to see what Rabbit Ears Peak looks like then have a look here.

7. Chocolate Rock Cycle

And finally, we couldn't finish off with at least some mention of chocolate. If you are left with a plethora of Easter eggs then instead of making the usual rice-krispie buns then why not use them to learn about the chocolate rock cycle, all thanks to this great resource produced by the Geological Society. You can find out about sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks all through the medium of chocolate; educational and edible!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

COST TU1206 Sub-Urban Conference, Bucharest...by Alex Donald

Attendees at the COST TU1206 Conference in Bucharest
The conference of the TU1206 Sub-Urban Action took place at the Faculty of Civil Engineering Technical University of Civil Engineering Bucharest on March 14-16th 2017.
 
The COST action, supported by the EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020, comprised a network of Geological Surveys, cities and research partners from 31 countries that worked together to improve how we manage the ground beneath our cities.

The culmination of four years of work, the video presentations are available on the www.sub-urban.eu website along with interviews of key participants across the sub-urban network.

Key outputs of the project include:
  • Opening up the Subsurface for the Cities of Tomorrow - A Working Group 2 report that considered practices and techniques on the themes of (1) Subsurface information and planning, (2) Data acquisition and management, (3) Geotechnical data and geohazards in city subsurface management, (4) Groundwater, geothermal monitoring and modelling, (5) Geotechnical modelling and hazards, (6) Subsurface geochemistry, and (7) Cultural Heritage.
  • 15 Short-term Scientific Mission reports that brought together experts from different disciplines and regions, across Europe and beyond, to foster collaboration and exchange knowledge.
  •  A toolbox to assist translating recommended methodologies, good practice and guidance into workflows that can be used by sub-surface experts, urban planners and decision makers. 

While the conference in Bucharest brought to a conclusion action TU1206 Sub-Urban the work doesn’t stop here. The www.sub-urban.eu website will continue to grow thanks to an enthusiastic network of members and will hopefully provide plenty of material for those of you interested in the Urban Sub-surface.

For further information on BGS’s work on Urban Geology see http://bgs.ac.uk/research/engineeringGeology/urbanGeoscience/home.html and http://bgs.ac.uk/research/engineeringGeology/urbanGeoscience/clyde/asknetwork/home.html

For more information on COST Sub-Urban contact Alex Donald

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

An exciting new development in soil phosphate oxygen isotope analysis...by Andi Smith

In early February, Andi Smith (Stable Isotope Facility) and Sammi Coyle (PhD student joint with The University of Nottingham and Scotland’s Rural College) visited collaborators at Rothamsted Research (North Wyke, Devon), to learn more about one of our most exciting stable isotope techniques developments. Rothamsted Research is a world-leading research centre in plant and soil science for sustainable agriculture. Here, Andi explains a bit more about their visit and why we should all be interested in phosphate oxygen isotope analysis...

Sammi and I visited Rothamsted Research, North Wyke in Devon to help us perfect a technique for extracting inorganic phosphate from soil samples, so we can analyse these for their oxygen isotope composition.

But firstly, why are we interested in isotopes of phosphorus?


Phosphorus is a key nutrient for all life, critical for the development of cells and functioning of DNA and RNA. It is therefore one of a few key elements which are fundamental for the development of all living things along with nitrogen and carbon. When these elements are lacking in the environment, they are often described as limiting nutrients. For this reason, modern farming practices have developed specific fertilisers which help increase the levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in the soil system. This has helped us drastically improve crop yields. However, where these nutrients are lost into streams and rivers, they can promote the growth of algae and damage, often delicate, natural ecosystems. It is therefore important to understand and trace how these nutrients behave when added into the soil system. This is where isotopes can play their part….

For many years, nitrogen cycling in soil systems has been characterised by the analysis of nitrogen (15N) and oxygen (18O) isotopes in nitrate (NO31-). However, phosphorus only has one stable isotope (31P), and until recently, it has only been possible to extract the 18O signature of phosphate (PO43-) in clean waters (e.g. seawater). However, ground-breaking work undertaken in 2010 at ETH Zurich has made it possible for us to extract inorganic phosphate from soils (which also have many organic phosphorus compounds), so we can now start to trace the phosphate cycle far more closely. It is this method for extracting inorganic phosphorus that we have been working on for the last week.

Extracting inorganic phosphate


Whilst quite complex and time consuming (so I don’t go into details here), the extraction technique is based around a few relatively simple principles.

At the first stage, soil samples are treated with acid to release the inorganic phosphate into solution. After this, there are several stages where phosphate compounds are precipitated out of solution and washed to remove any unwanted contaminants containing oxygen, which would interfere with the analysis. The final stage is to add a silver solution which precipitates with the phosphate to form silver phosphate crystals- it is these crystals we analyse for their oxygen isotope composition

From L-R: First the soil must be filtered to break up any large particles, a messy job; Filtering out the bright yellow APM
crystals, this is where all the phosphate has been trapped.

What’s next?


Now that we have a working method to use at the BGS’s Stable Isotope Facility, we hope to be able to work on a whole range of new projects for which this isotope technique is critical. We believe this technique will be invaluable to further our understanding of the interactions of fertilisers and soils systems (this is the focus of Sammi’s PhD) but that we could also apply this technique to studies of phosphate pollution, phosphate source tracing and potentially palaeoclimate reconstructions. Watch this space….

Sammi and I would both like to thank Dr Verena Pfahler and Dr Steve Granger for hosting us at Rothamsted Research and to The University of Nottingham and Scotland’s Rural College for sponsoring our visit. Sammi would also like to thank UoN and SRUC for co-funding her PhD project. We hope to have some great data for you soon!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Deploying and servicing a seismic network in Central Italy...by Simone Mancini

Seismicity map of the Amatrice-Norcia sequence updated on 20 January 2017.
From a scientific point of view, the seismicity that is hitting Central Italy presents itself as an unmissable opportunity for seismologists to analyse the triggering and the evolution of an earthquake sequence. From the tens of instruments installed in the affected area, a huge amount of data is being collected. Such a well-recorded sequence will allow us to produce a comprehensive seismic catalogue of events. On this big quantity of data, new algorithms will be developed and tested for the characterisation of even the smallest earthquakes. Moreover, they will enable the validation of more accurate and testable statistical and physics-based forecast models, which is the core objective of my PhD project.

The Central Apennines are one of the most seismically hazardous areas in Italy and in Europe. Many destructive earthquakes have occurred throughout this region in the past, most recently the 2009 Mw = 6.4 L’Aquila event. On August 24th, just 43 km North of the 2009 epicentre, an earthquake of magnitude 6.0 occurred and devastated the villages of Amatrice and Accumoli, leading to 298 fatalities, hundreds of injured and tens of thousands people affected. The mainshock was followed, in under an hour, by a Mw = 5.4 aftershock. Two months later, on October 26th, the northern sector of the affected area was struck by two earthquakes of magnitude 5.4 and 5.9, respectively, with epicentres near the village of Visso. To make things even worse, on October 30th the city of Norcia was hit by a magnitude 6.5 mainshock, which has been the biggest event of the sequence to date and the strongest earthquake in Italy in the last 36 years. Building collapses and damages were very heavy for many villages and many historical heritage buildings have reported irreparable damages, such as the 14th century St. Benedict cathedral. On January 18th, other four earthquakes of magnitude greater than 5 have been recorded near the villages of Montereale and Pizzoli, in the southern sector. Luckily, there have been no further fatalities since the very first event of August 24.

St Benedict's Cathedral (Norcia), erected in the late 14th century and completely destroyed after the
Mw 6.5 earthquake of 30th October.
Immediately after the first big event, an emergency scientific response team was formed by the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh, to support the rapid deployment of high-accuracy seismometers in collaboration with the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV). The high detection capabilities, made possible by such a dense network, will let us derive a seismic catalogue with a great regional coverage and improved magnitude sensitivity. This new, accurate, catalogue will be crucial in developing operational forecast models. The ultimate aim is to understand the potential migration of seismic activity to neighbouring faults as well as the anatomy of the seismogenic structure and to shed light into the underlying physical processes that produce the hazard.

Thanks to the quick response of the National Environmental Research Council (NERC) and SEIS-UK, 30 broadband stations have been promptly dispatched from Leicester and arrived in less than 48 hours in Rome. There, a group of 9 people composed by INGV and BGS seismologists, technicians and PhD students (including myself) from University of Bristol, Dublin Institute for Advanced Study (DIAS) and University of Ulster were ready to travel across the Apennines to deploy this equipment. The first days in Rome were all about planning; the location of each station was carefully decided so as to integrate the existing Italian permanent and temporary networks in the most appropriate way. After having performed the 'huddle test' in the INGV storage room, which involves parallel checking of all the field instrumentation in order to ensure its correct functioning, we packed all the equipment and headed to the village of Leonessa, a location considered safe enough to be used as our base camp (despite the village being damaged and partially evacuated after the 30th October event).

Preparing instrumentation for the huddle test in one of INGV's storage rooms.
In order to optimise time and resources, and to start recording data as soon as possible, we decided to split in three groups so that we could finish our work between the end of August and the first week of September. Each seismic station is composed of a buried sensor, a GPS antenna, a car battery, a regulator and two solar panels. The current deployment will stay for 1 year and will be collecting data continually. Each sensor had to be carefully buried and levelled to guarantee the highest quality of recording, which was a strenuous challenge when the ground was quite rocky!

Aside from the scientific value of the expedition, the deployment week was a great opportunity to get to know each other, share opinions, ideas and, of course, get some training in seismology! At the end, we managed to install 24 stations around an area of approximately 2700 km2.

As this type of seismic station didn’t have telemetry, each needed to be revisited to retrieve data. For this purpose, from October 17th, Dr David Hawthorn (BGS) and I flew to Italy again and stayed there for the following ten days to service the seismometers and to do the first data dump. Our goals were also to check the quality of the first month of recordings, to add a second solar panel where needed, and to prepare the stations for the forthcoming winter. To do that, a lot of hammering and woodworking was needed. We serviced all the sites, raising the solar panels and GPS antennas on posts, which were securely anchored to the ground, to prevent snow from covering them. The stations were all in good conditions, with just minor damages due to some very snoopy cows.

Left: Typical setting of our deployed stations. On the left, the buried sensor. Its cables, buried as well, connect it to the
 instrumentation inside the black box (a car battery, and a regulator). On the right, the solar panel (a second one was added in
 October service) and the white GPS antenna. Right: Dr David Hawthorn (BGS) servicing the stations – A second solar panel
 was added. Panels and GPS antennas were raised on posts anchored to the ground through timbers.
Typical setting of our deployed stations. On the left, the buried sensor. Its cables, buried as well, connect it to the instrumentation inside the black box (a car battery, and a regulator). On the right, the solar panel (a second one was added in October service) and the white GPS antenna. Dr David Hawthorn (BGS) servicing the stations – A second solar panel was added. Panels and GPS antennas were raised on posts anchored to the ground through timbers.

On October 26, just the night before leaving for Rome, we experienced first-hand the frightening feeling of a mainshock just below our feet. Both the quakes of that evening surprised us while we were inside a building; the rumble just few seconds before the quake was shocking and the shaking was very strong. Fortunately, there were no severe damages in Leonessa but many people in the village refused to spend the night in their own houses. Also, it was impressive to see the local emergency services response: only a few minutes after the first quake, policemen were already out to patrol the inner village checking for any people experiencing difficulties.

Throughout our car transfers from one site to another we frequently found roads interrupted by a building collapse or by a landslide, but we could also admire the mountains with a mantle of beautiful autumnal colours and the spectacular landscapes offered by the Apennines, like the Monte Vettore, the Gran Sasso (the highest peak in the Apennines) and the breath-taking Castelluccio plain near Norcia.

View of the Norcia Plain, near to the 24th August Mw5.3 and 20th October Mw 6.5 earthquake epicentres.
From my point of view, I learned a lot and really enjoyed this experience. I feel privileged to have started my PhD in leading institutions like the British Geological Survey and the University of Bristol and, at the same time, to be able to spend time in my home country (yes, I am Italian…) with such interesting scientific questions. What I know for sure is that we will be back there again.

Simone Mancini is a 1st year PhD student with the British Geological Survey and the University of Bristol. 

Monday, 6 March 2017

Starting my PhD with the British Geological Survey...by James Williams

Me standing on the front helideck of the ship in the
North Atlantic. 
Hello, my name is James and I have recently started my PhD at the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University and the British Geological Survey. During my PhD, I will investigate the mechanisms that have driven glacial retreat along the Antarctic Peninsula coastline over the last 2,000 years. In order to do this, I will utilise the geochemistry of diatoms collected from a suite of British Antarctic Survey sediment cores. Diatoms produce a hard shell (frustule) of silicate that is preserved in the sediment record, the geochemistry of which can be used as a proxy of glacial discharge and meltwater input to the ocean as a result of melting.

During the third year of my undergraduate degree, I studied at Stockholm's Universitet as part of the ERASMAS programme. It was here that I became fascinated with palaeoclimate, palaeoceanography and all things diatom! For my Bachelors thesis, I chose to reconstruct sea ice concentrations using marine diatom assemblages. It was whilst looking down the microscope at these beautiful, ornate, fossil algae that I decided that I wanted to pursue research within the field of palaeoclimate.

I have been very lucky during the beginning months of my PhD. In October, I attended the ‘Applications of Stable Isotope Geochemistry’ workshop at the Scottish University Environmental Research Centre laboratory in East Kilbride. Whilst there, I learned about some of the fascinating applications of stable isotope geochemistry beyond palaeoclimate. These applications include using stable isotopes in mineral exploration, ecology and (arguably the most fascinating) in reconstructing the movement of King Richard the 3rd across the United Kingdom during his lifetime. Moreover, participants were taken on a guided tour of the lab facilities, and were able to gain hands on experience of the preparation methods used for analysis of stable isotopes. I took part in the preparation of samples using the carbonate line, which involved some very exciting liquid nitrogen and a very hot hairdryer! The workshop was a fantastic opportunity to meet other like-minded early career stable isotope geochemists, and was rounded off with a tour to the very impressive, gargantuan, Accelerated Mass Spectrometer laboratory.    
 
From L-R: The Akademik Tryoshnikov in all her glory which was my home for the 4 week expedition from Bemerhaven
 (pictured) to Cape Town; the CTD wet lab and the Niskin Bottle rosette where I conducted most of my work.
In November, I took part in the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE) Maritime University. The ACE cruise has been organized by the Swiss Polar Institute, with the aim of conducting science in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic Islands. I boarded the Akademik Tryoshnikov, a Russian ice breaker, in the cold and grey of Bremerhaven and was bound for Cape Town. We set sail during storm Abigail, and I had to find my sea legs very quickly as we transited through the English Channel. Upon reaching the Atlantic Ocean, we began with the lecture series that formed the Maritime University. These lectures were a fantastic introduction to the various aspects of physical oceanography, ocean chemistry and biology that play a fundamental role in the climate system. As part of the seagoing University, I was able to shadow a scientist who conducted research in a field of my interest and assist in their lab work. Given my interest in diatoms and ocean chemistry, I naturally gravitated towards the Conductivity Temperature Depth (CTD) profiler. Everyday, at 8 am and 3 pm, I would go to the wet lab and prepare the Niskin bottles on the CTD rosette for deployment. These Niskin bottles are closed at specific depths within the water column, bring water samples from depth to the scientists onboard. I would then oversee the deployment of the rosette, and take my position of at the helm of the computer. The CTD was lowered to 500 m, whilst recording profiles of oxygen saturation, salinity, temperature and chlorophyll concentrations analysed, and the Niskin bottles closed on the return to the surface. I would then distribute the water samples to the scientists. Being the only geologist onboard, everyone was interested in just what it is that we do, and how we do it.

Southern Ocean diatoms. 
Upon returning to Cardiff, I have been reviewing the literature previously published from the Antarctic Peninsula, with the aim of placing my research into the context of the work already conducted. I have also spent time at BAS sampling cores, and learned the sample preparation methods for stable isotope analysis at Nottingham. In the coming weeks, I will be setting up the lab for cleaning diatoms at Cardiff and will be running my very first samples on the Stepwise Fluorination Line at BGS. Stay tuned over the coming months for updates on the progress of these first analyses, as well as some more insight into why scientists are concerned by melting glaciers along the Antarctic Peninsula, and how we can develop records of melting using diatom stable oxygen isotopes.    

My supervisory team consists of Jennifer Pike and Elizabeth Bagshaw (Cardiff University), George Swann (Nottingham University), Melanie Leng (BGS) and Claire Allen (BAS). James can be found on twitter using the handle @jameswilliams108


Monday, 27 February 2017

SIGMA training in Chile, the UK and Africa...by Leanne Hughes

Leanne demonstrating SIGMA in the field in Chile. 
Last month I undertook work which involved me being in three continents within a week. This is not bad going since I had only previously visited three in a lifetime! The first visit was to the geological survey of Chile (SERNAGEOMIN) and ENAMI the National Mining Company, this was part of a collaborative project with BGS to discover how we can use high resolution state of the art remote sensing imagery and elevation models to better define and understand geological problems for further study. For the interpretation of this data we used  virtual field reconnaissance software ‘GeoVisionary’ to enable a team of BGS and Chilean geologists to understand the virtual terrain as a group and record the interpretations as digital lines. This allowed the geologists to make decisions about which field sites needed a visit in order to constrain the remote interpretation. Once the field sites were identified, we flew to the north of Chile near Ovalle to field verify the interpretations using BGS SIGMA mobile.  SIGMA is a GIS-based geological mapping system, which spatially references geological observations interpretations and line work. It allowed us to collect a great deal of data into one system. The temperature in North Chile was in the mid-30s and very dry, there were lots of cactus with vicious spines – one small round variety stuck in my mind as the Chilean name translated as “A cushion for the mother-in-law”!

"A cushion for the mother-in-law"!
Whilst in the north, ENAMI showed us around the copper sulphate and silicate mines in the area and explained how viewing the workings in 3D would be useful to understand the relations of the different deposits. Once fieldwork was completed and we had collected as many interpretations as was practical, BGS and SERNAGEOMIN headed back to the head office in Santiago. By importing the SIGMA field observations into GeoVisionary we were able to discuss the interpretations and decide on what to indicate on the final geological map. The geological map was compiled in small teams who focused on areas of their expertise; I worked alongside Juan-Pablo to create a new geological interpretation of the area north of Ovalle. It was a privilege to have been able to contribute new interpretations and line work to one of their geological maps. At the end of the visit, we presented the work we had done to the department and discussed the merits of workflow we had used.

I then flew back to the UK to spend a few days setting up four tablet PCs to deliver SIGMA training the following week with Eimear Deady.

The third continent was Africa at the Liberian Geological Survey where we were delivering a course on digital geological mapping using SIGMA. I thought I was used to the hot weather after Chile but I was not ready for the hundred percent humidity and the sauna-like working environment in Liberia! With funding provided by the UK Government (DFID), a team from the BGS has been building capacity at the Liberian Geological Survey (LGS) so that staff there are better equipped to manage the country’s land-based mineral resources. The course involved a mixture of office-based training supported by practical exercises undertaken outside at various locations in Monrovia. Some of the office-based training was a little challenging. Several power cuts meant that being adaptable was key!

Classroom training (L) and teaching field skills (R) in Liberia. 
The initial few days of the course focused on familiarity with GIS and downloading the background data needed when undertaking mapping, such as aerial photographs and topographic maps. We then focused on field skills, such as finding your location on a map using triangulation and measuring dip/strike. The final exercises for the  LGS geologists was to then create a geological and topographical map of a compound in Monrovia which had a good outcrop of dolerite with jointed faces that could be measured. This utilised all the skills they had learned during the course.  At the end of the course, the trainees described what they had learned in a presentation to the Director of the LGS.

Overall, working in Chile (S. American Continent) and Liberia (African Continent) (with a few days in the UK (European Continent) between the two), were two very different experiences using SIGMA and provided me with a great opportunity to better understand the geology of these two countries.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Bye Bye to Jonathan Dean...by Jonathan Dean

At the end of February, Jonathan Dean will bid farewell to the Stable Isotope Facility at the British Geological Survey to start a lectureship at the University of Hull, here he looks back on his time in Keyworth... 

I first came to the Stable Isotope Facility (part of the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry at the BGS) in 2010 as an undergraduate from the University of Nottingham to get experience of working in a laboratory. I subsequently moved on to do a PhD at Nottingham and over the next 3 years I was regularly back at BGS, analysing lake sediments for geochemistry from Turkey. We've now published a number of papers on the isotope work I undertook on those sediments, which we used to reconstruct how the climate of the Eastern Mediterranean region had changed between wet and dry over the past 13,000 years (See Dean et al. 2015a Dean et al. 2015b; Dean et al. 2015c).

In 2014, and after I completed my PhD, I started working at BGS as a 'Stable Isotope Apprentice', where I received training in a large variety of lab tasks including the analysis of organic matter in resource type studies for carbon isotopes and the analysis of oxygen isotopes in carbonates for palaeoclimate research. Following my training I was in an ideal position to apply for and obtain a 2 year post-doctoral post associated on a NERC funded grant based at BGS. For the last 2 years I have been analysing the chemistry of lake sediments from Ethiopia in order to reconstruct changes between wet and dry climate over the past several hundred thousand years in eastern Africa (see my update in 2015 on Geoblogy) and link these changes to the movement of hominins out of Africa. The climax of the project came in January this year when over 60 scientists from around the world gathered at Arizona State University in Phoenix to discuss progress of this international effort. We are aiming to test our hypothesis that changes in climate influenced the history of Homo sapiens and our predecessor species. We're hoping to start publishing our results within the next year, so watch this space!

Overall, what an amazing few years it has been, the Stable Isotope Facility at the British Geological Survey has been a great place to work (and get training) and I hope to continue research collaborations for years to come! I am now looking forward to working as a lecturer in Physical Geography at the University of Hull. Thanks to Chris Kendrick, Carol Arrowsmith, Hilary Sloane and Melanie Leng at the BGS who have supported me through the last 7 years.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Investigating Climate and Environmental Change in Eastern Australia (Part 2)...by Melanie Leng

The field team made up of researchers from University of Adelaide,
the Queensland government and Melanie Leng  (BGS/University
of Nottingham) and Andy Henderson (Newcastle).
In May 2016 Melanie blogged about her role in a project led by Dr John Tibby and Dr Cameron Barr (from University of Adelaide) on understanding climate change in eastern Australia. This is difficult because few archives of climate change exist in eastern Australia. The team developed a climate record based on the chemistry (carbon isotope ratios) of the broad-leaved paperbark tree, which they correlated to water stress. As a result of that research, Melanie was invited to the University of Adelaide to discuss future collaboration on recent climate change in eastern Australia and visit North Stradbroke Island which was the focus of the original study. Here Mel tells us about her trip…… 

NASA World Wind Landsat
montage of Stradbroke Island
courtesy of Wikipedia.  
Following on from our recent paper in Global Change Biology, I was invited to visit the University of Adelaide to see what expertise we at the British Geological Survey and the University of Nottingham could provide in studying recent climate change along the eastern Australia coastal margin. Climate change is a current hot topic in Australia as it potentially could lead to significant environmental and economic impacts in water security, agriculture, coastal communities and infrastructure. It is important to understand past climate change especially the causes of past increases in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

Scientists from the University of Adelaide are working on the past frequency of climate extremes by undertaking research from the records in lake sediments. The first week in Adelaide was spent in meetings, talking to researchers about their projects, but probably the most important was the work being done on North Stradbroke Island (locally referred to as Straddie). Straddie is the second largest sand island in the world (24 x 7 miles), and lies off the Brisbane coast. The sand island contains both large and small aquifers of water and where these aquifers intersect the sand surface they form small lakes. Sediments have accumulated in these lakes over tens and up to hundreds of thousands of years! We visited several of these lakes to discuss their potential to accumulate sediments (many contain 10s of metres of organic rich muds). These muds contain information through time, the oldest being at the bottom of sediment cores extracted from the lakes, while the youngest are at the top. We are (and will be) analysing some of these sediments for geochemical and biological parameters at the British Geological Survey. These parameters will tell us about changing water quality in the past that is related to water stress (or how dry the climate was in the past).

From L-R: Swallow Lake on Stradbroke Island, one of the contenders to provide a long climate history of eastern Australia;
Fieldwork on 'Straddie' Island, here testing the depth of the sediments within this (currently) dried up lake (Welsby Lagoon).
We visited several lakes including Swallow Lake (the site of the original work on the paperbark tree) as well as Brown Lake (perhaps it got its name from leaching of organic compounds from the peats as the sediments accumulated), and the remarkably resilient Blue Lake which is thought to be untouched by climate change and due to its spectacular setting has been hypothetically referred to as “God’s Bathtub” thanks to Cameron Barr.
One of the locals of a field notebook (note the scale), a fairly
harmless orb-weaver spider.
Through our future collaboration we hope that the team involving staff from the University of Adelaide, the British Geological Survey and the University of Nottingham will be able to make inferences about the controls (local, global, man-made) on the past and future climates of eastern Australia.

The fieldwork was headed by Dr John Tibby and Dr Cameron Barr but included staff from Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innnovation, as well as Melanie and Dr Andy Henderson (University of Newcastle)

Melanie Leng is the Director of the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry at the BGS and University of Nottingham. Follow Mel on twitter @MelJLeng.