Wednesday, 20 September 2017
Thursday, 14 September 2017
On Day 1 (after the health and safety induction) we began our week long experiment to extract Carbon Dioxide (CO2) gas from Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3) samples which could then be analysed in a mass spectrometer. The first stage in this experiment was to weigh out our carbonate samples into small test tubes, drop these into larger glass vials containing phosphoric acid and then attach these to the vacuum pump (see above photo) so that overnight all the air could be removed. We then allowed the phosphoric acid and sample to mix by shaking the larger vessel and leaving it in a 25.2oC water bath overnight so that the reaction could be fully completed and all at the same temperature. The next day we then had to extract the CO2 gas which had been formed by the reaction. To do this we reattached the vessel to the vacuum pump and then used liquid nitrogen (which was at -196oC) to sublime the CO2 whilst we removed any other remaining gases. The gas was also passed through an acetone water trap to remove any water which would have later damaged the mass spectrometer.
Once all of our samples had been extracted we then attached them to the mass spectrometer and left them to be analysed. It was especially interesting to learn in detail how the mass spectrometers work and see all of the components up close. I had not previously known about the use of a reference gas or the requirements of different machines to analyse different isotopes – the ones we were using looked specifically at Carbon-13 and Oxygen-18. On our final day we were able to collect and analyse our results, from the graphs we plotted we were able to see that the loch from which the samples were collected had gradually changed from a freshwater environment to a marine one. This was due to the increase in sea levels at the end of the last glacial period 12,000 years ago.
Whilst we were waiting for our main experiment to progress we were also introduced to many other areas of the lab. This included using microbalances, tweezers and mini spatulas to weigh out very very small amounts (70-150mg) of one of the BGS internal standards of freeze dried broccoli! Whilst frustrating at times, this has certainly given me a much greater appreciation of the meticulous and painstaking preparation of samples required to conduct good research.
We also helped prepare rock sediment samples from Vietnam and Tanzania for analysis, this involved daily emptying and refilling of (many) beakers in order to wash the samples of debris and dirt. Once the samples had dried out we then scraped them out of the beakers and used a mortar and pestle to grind them into a fine powder before depositing them into small vials ready to be analysed.
Monday, 11 September 2017
I have just had the opportunity to spend a week and a half in a very wet, rainy Sierra Leone, working with Kathryn Goodenough as part of a two-year partnership project, funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), that is focusing on building a lasting legacy around capacity in the extractives sector. Sierra Leone has been left reeling in recent decades with a brutal ten-year long civil war that finally ended in 2002, the recent Ebola Crisis, and now a catastrophic landslide in the capital, Freetown. My role in country was to run an introductory petrology course to some of the geologists in the National Mining Agency (NMA). Recently refurbished, the Agency has purchased two microscopes to enable them to study rocks in thin section. This is something we at BGS take for granted, but for the NMA, this will be a tremendous step forward. My first challenge was getting four boxes of thin sections that will form the core of a teaching collection at the NMA into country. According to UK customs, thin sections are an offensive weapon, and I very nearly had them confiscated! The flight was spent in nervous anticipation of arriving in Sierra Leone with four boxes of fragmented glass, but fortunately, the boxes survived the baggage handling intact!
|A view of the microscope lab|
We arrived in country following weeks of exceptionally heavy rain – one estimate we heard was that the rain in August had been 3 times greater than the norm – and believe me, when it rains here, it RAINS! It’s the first time I’ve had to give lectures and battle with the noise of the rain in order to be heard!
Friday, 1 September 2017
Hi, my name is Jo and I began my PhD at the British Geological Survey and School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol in September 2016. My research aims to further our understanding of preservation potential of mineralising systems located in the shallow submarine environment (<100 m). In this blog, I will share with you an aspect of my field season on the Greek island of Milos from this summer.
Dynamic submarine processes can help or hinder preservation, potentially resulting in either a bonanza or a failed ore deposit. Therefore, it is important to understand the dynamic processes and the preservation potential, to determine whether the shallow submarine environment is prospective for future mineral exploration and exploitation. The island of Milos, located in the Cyclades, Greece, provides an ideal on-land laboratory having emerged 1.4 million years ago. The island’s topography reflects the paleo-seafloor, and allows us to directly study and sample mineralised and hydrothermally altered paleosurfaces that formed in the shallow submarine environment.
I have recently returned from my field season where we drove approx. 2000 km (a similar distance from Nottingham to Rome) around winding roads of a 13 by 23 km island over a period of five weeks. The first challenge of the trip included learning to adapt to a Jimny Jeep that was not happy to be in first gear or reverse.
I was joined in the field by my main supervisor, Jon Naden, for a handful of days prior to the rest of the party. This was a great opportunity to visit mineralised and altered outcrops, which I had only read about in literature. This was vital in helping my understanding of hydrothermal systems and begin to visualise how my PhD project will pan out. More students from the University of Bristol and Ottawa shortly joined us for a week, alongside researchers from the University of Athens - the island was certainly busy.
One aspect I am keen to research involves how mineralisation differs from the western ancient hydrothermal system in comparison to the active system located in the east. In order to observe the active submarine environment and witness the potential ore-forming environment, we collaborated with PhD students Jonathan Teague and Dean Connor from the School of Physics, University of Bristol, whom have experience building and deploying low-cost remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) and unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e. drones; UAVs). With knowledge from the University of Athens, we deployed a BlueROV2, equipped with a GoPro Hero 5 off the southern coastline of Milos Island. This was entirely controlled via a laptop and Xbox 360 controller onshore, which allowed the ROV to move a maximum distance of 100 m offshore.The aim of this pilot study allowed us to decipher the location of active venting fields – were they randomly dispersed or was there a structural or permeability control? Knowing the NW-SE horst-graben structural control on the island, we inferred this lineament out to the southern coastline. Alongside rotten-egg smelling fumaroles located in the cliff faces, we were able to decipher two likely venting locations to deploy the ROV. The rotten-egg odour is indicative of sulfur in the form of H2S: a gas coming directly from an underlying magma chamber.
|1. Setting up the office for venting exploration.|
2. The ROV in action.
Three days were spent identifying and undertaking reconnaissance mapping within an area of 1 km2 where we successfully found venting sites. The team from the School of Physics, University of Bristol undertook a Structure-from-Motion (SfM) photogrammetry program, to produce high-resolution 3D topographic reconstructions of the seafloor. Thousands of images taken with the GoPro Hero 5 contribute to a handful of bathometry models. Despite the huge volume of data, this is a much cheaper option.
Since the vents are relatively shallow (<7 m), we returned to the area during the evening to snorkel which was the perfect treat to end an incredibly hot day hiking to outcrops. Luckily, the sun was still shining, which meant the visibility conditions underwater were perfect. Often, you could use your sense of smell to locate the venting fields. Patches where bubbles were rising often resembled the temperature of a hot bath (approx. 60oC). We avoided swimming directly over these areas due to the corrosive nature of the escaping gases.
Unlike the ROV, we had to be patient with the weather in order to fly the drone. Rain and strong winds often set us behind schedule. For safety purposes, a team of four was needed: two would secure the location to prevent the public from being close to the flight area, whilst the pilot and computer-operator would liaise to ensure the drone was following the pre-planned flight lines. We chose terrain-challenging locations to create photogrammetry models, which would enable remote fieldwork with a 10 cm resolution. When discussing my research and its implications back home, it will now be much easier for the audience to follow my thinking if I display the landscape and rocks to them, as if they were on fieldwork with me.
This was a great opportunity to be part of a student-led
research project with a diverse range of skillsets, with the full backing of
our supervisors. We are currently writing our first paper and eager to develop
the project further and revisit the venting site next spring.
4. UAV Pilot undertaking a test survey.
My supervisory team consists of Jon Naden (BGS), Frances Cooper and Brian Tattitch (University of Bristol), Stephen Grebby (University of Nottingham), Dan Smith (University of Leicester) and Graham Ferrier (University of Hull).
Jo can be found on Twitter using the handle @geologyjomiles
Photography credit: Jonathan Teague, email@example.com
Photography credit: Jonathan Teague, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, 31 August 2017
Learning geology and promoting BGS's OpenGeoscience at the OUGS Festival of Geodiversity...by Gemma Nash
|The BGS stall set up ready to receive visitors.|
I didn't know what to expect, but was greeted by some very friendly OUGS organisers and set up a BGS stand in a break out room opposite the main lecture theatre for the weekend's talks. I was sharing the space with BGS's Don Cameron who is the OUGS secretary and was selling some of BGS's published books.
I was there to promote the new data that is available via OpenGeoscience and found that the Festival's demographic were particularly interested in our newly available Publications and Maps Portal. I also had a lot of interest in testing the new version of our iGeology app.
As a web developer whose knowledge of geology has only been absorbed during my eleven years working for the BGS, I was surprised quite how much I understood at the three talks I attended over the Friday and Saturday and and how much new geological knowledge I obtained. The other delegates were very keen to share their learning and experiences which complemented the lectures.
Tim Kearsey and Maarten Krabbendam both presented and were very well received. Maarten described how the Moine and Torridonian rocks are actually intertwined over Scotland and Canada. Tim talked about the TW:eed project where four-legged animals Tiny (Aytonerpeton) and Ribbo were discovered as our Scottish ancestors.
On the Monday, I was lucky enough to be invited on a field trip to Siccar Point and Cove, south of Dunbar.Our trip leader was Angus Miller from Geowalks who described the local sedimentology and geological periods as we walked along the top coastal path near Cove.
|From L-R: Angus Millar and his dog Roxy providing scale for Hutton's Unconformity; |
Cove Beach surrounded by Old Red Sandstone cliffs.
We ended the trip with a picnic on beautiful Cove beach which is only accessible by a slightly creepy and dimly lit sandstone and brick tunnel. On the beach we found lots of evidence for the Anthropocene in the form of beautiful pebbles of beach glass. We then discussed how the sedimentary rocks that formed part of the harbour wall contain features that enable you to decode different river processes that laid down the sediments over time.
Monday, 28 August 2017
Hi, I’m Helen and I’m a 1st year PhD student at the University of Cambridge, in partnership with BUFI, the BGS University Funding Initiative. My research looks at sediment properties of salt marshes and tidal flats and how these relate to the stability of salt marshes. This means I get to spend a lot of time sampling in the field, which is great fun (if the weather is good)!
Why are we interested in salt marsh stability?
Salt marshes help protect the land behind them from flooding and erosion, however marsh areas are declining globally. My research will improve models that simulate future marsh evolution, particularly in a changing climate. This will help us to understand whether marshes will continue to protect us from flooding in the future.
|Sunset on Tillingham marsh in February|
What exactly do I sample?
I’m interested in the sediment properties and how these relate to erosion resistance. During my PhD I hope to look mainly at the sediment shear strength, compressibility, shrink-swell behaviour and plasticity (i.e. how the sediment behaves at different moisture contents). Most of these tests will be done in the lab and will require undisturbed samples. That means a sample where we try to keep in the in situ condition. For anyone who hasn’t done undisturbed sampling before, you’ll probably think I’m crazy by the end of this paragraph. I’m going to try and explain the process of collecting the samples. Essentially, you dig the outside of a pit, leaving the central section untouched (see photo). Then you carefully remove the vegetation and the uppermost sediment (and by 'carefully' I mean 'using small kitchen knives to remove 2 cm2 chunks of sediment, bit by bit'!). The next step is to place the sampling equipment on the surface, push down gently by 1-2 mm, then scrape the excess 1-2 mm of sediment carefully from around the side of the equipment (see photo). Then we repeat pushing down and scraping the excess sediment until the sediment reaches the top of the sample! In total, digging the pit and taking the sample can frequently take three hours! Finally, the samples are wrapped in A LOT of bubble wrap, placed on trays and packed in boxes to reduce disturbance during transport! But after all this, do you know what the best part of the day was? Enjoying a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice! To explain: the rest of my research group were in the field flying a drone over the marsh and used halved oranges as ground control points (novel, I know!). However, so as not to waste the oranges, these were squeezed before we went out to the field!
|Digging the outside of the pit, leaving the central section untouched.|
|Carefully pushing the sampler into the sediment, then scraping away the sediment around the outside. This particular sample is nearly done, as the sediment inside the sampler has now reached the top of the sampler.|
Where do I sample?
Most recently, I was sampling at Tillingham Marsh in Essex. We spent two days meticulously taking undisturbed samples in the glorious sunshine (though unfortunately it isn’t always like this!), before carefully transporting the samples back to Cambridge. The samples were taken from the lower marsh, close to, but not on, the tidal flat.
|Tillingham Marsh in summer|
I’m now about to start work on these samples at BGS Keyworth. This will involve three weeks of more sample preparation, plus lots of loading the samples into machines which allow me to assess properties such as consolidation, shear strength and shrink-swell behaviour.
If you’re interested in finding out more about my project, please follow me on Twitter at @hbrooks94
Friday, 25 August 2017
Grace Davis started work at the British Geological Survey in July 2017, in this weekly series she shares what she gets up to as part of the Comms team at the BGS...
Pebbles: small, round, found at the beach. They’re not things that get a lot of attention really, although I expect most of us have felt the small satisfaction of gripping a particularly smooth one in our hands or skimming a lovely flat one across the waves.
I’ve found myself considering pebbles a lot this week, and that’s all down to the Comms team’s new Pebble Project! We decided that these little over-looked geological items deserved a bit more attention so we’ve gotten to work on designing some pebble resources. Aimed at all ages, these downloads will be available for people to take out and about – use them at the beach to identify what you’ve found, use them as the basis for a fun project (there are a surprising number of things you can do with a pebble!) or use them to learn more about the different rock types around the UK.
Our resources are currently still in the creation stage, with a very glamourous pebble photo-shoot taking place today. As you can see in the (exclusive, first-look!) images, we took photos of the pebbles both wet and dry. This is simply because wetting pebbles can often bring out beautiful detail that you just can’t see otherwise. If you’ve a pebble on hand, give it a go and see!
And now I’m going to let you into a little trick of the trade: the wet-look here is achieved not with water, which would dry too fast under the studio lights, but with glycerine! By the way, I do hope you’re building up a nice mental image of this photo-shoot – i.e. me hunched over a tray of sand, feverishly rearranging pebbles and getting increasingly grittier and stickier as I slather them in glycerine!
So, do look out for updates on the Pebble Project in the near future, including where you will be able to get hold of the resources. Until then you can find our existing information about pebbles (as well as our other great holiday geology guides) on the BGS website, here. And don’t forget, if you’re interested in resources for learning about geology, at whatever level, you can visit our online shop here or come and see us in our shops in Keyworth, Edinburgh and London.
|Sadly not dragon eggs, but rather beautiful limestones!|
That’s about all from me this week, but join me again next time as I continue to learn and share all about the (amazingly varied!) work of the BGS…
Wednesday, 23 August 2017
|Advert for the walks guide in NI4Kids.|
Landscapes from StoneAt the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI) we have a long history of producing popular geology publications. Some of our most successful were the Walk and Explore guides produced as part of the EU-funded Landscapes from Stone project. But these were published in 2000 and many of them were out of date so GSNI decided it was time to produce a new walking guide, taking the best bits from the original Walk series and making sure that we covered the whole of Northern Ireland.
A new walking guideThe long process of producing the new walking guide began back in 2012 when I first started as Landscape Geologist with GSNI. Using my knowledge of Northern Ireland's geology I identified areas to focus on that would not only cover the country geographically but also take into account as much geological diversity as possible. After going through the original Walks series, a number of walks were selected that would best represent particular features, were in especially scenic areas, or were well-known walks in their own right. I also identified many additional walks that I knew of either as a geologist, or as a lover of the outdoors, and put the whole list together.
The selection processAll of the walks were tried and tested either by me, or by some of our work experience students who were only too keen to get out of the office for the day. Each route was meticulously mapped, photographed and detailed notes were made about what to see along the way. Many of the original walks were scrapped as they were simply not there any more and some of the others had to be changed or added to ensure that there was good access and that there was enough to see and do. In one case, the original route took me through a river that went up to my thigh!
|View from Cave Hill, one of the two walks in Belfast.|
Image from Tourism NI.
|Ballykeel Portal Tomb on the Mullaghbane Walk. |
Image from Ring of Gullion AONB.
Time for a geological 'journey'The book has been written for the popular audience as we want as many people to use the book as possible. I tried to include all of the major geological attractions in Northern Ireland such as the Giant's Causeway, but I also included places that non-geologists might not know about such as Barnes in Co. Londonderry and its spectacular glacial landscape. This has all been accompanied by stunning photographs as there's nothing more likely to make people pick up a book that an amazing image.
The ultimate aim of Rambling on the Rocks is to get as many people out walking and exploring the natural landscape of Northern Ireland as possible. I want to ensure that every time they use the book that they are taken on a geological 'journey' and one that I am fortunate to go on every time I go walking.
'Rambling on the Rocks: Walking Northern Ireland's Natural Landscape' by K. Lemon, M. Cooper and A. Donald is available to buy directly from GSNI and is also available at the BGS shops in Keyworth, Edinburgh and London with an RRP of £7.99.
Friday, 18 August 2017
Like many other major infrastructure schemes in southern England, the tunnel was scheduled to be excavated in Upper Cretaceous Chalk. To the uninitiated, Chalk may appear to be a relatively homogenous flinty white rock, but to a geologist or engineer it is anything but. Its composition varies a great deal, ranging from soft clay-rich chalk without flints to very hard nodular chalk with abundant flints. The Chalk is also a major aquifer, the name given to a permeable rock that contains groundwater, so tunnelling can be problematic, especially where faults or major flint bands occur or where there are soft, weak or weathered chalks.
Ground investigationWhen ground investigations started at Stonehenge in 2001, the most relevant up to date BGS geological map was from 1903. This showed the whole route as being underlain by ‘Upper Chalk’, which is not much use for developing a ground model or predicting engineering properties of the chalk! Site investigation boreholes were drilled along the tunnel route to understand the geology before tunnelling. In the Chalk, identifying key features such as flint bands in borehole cores and sections is an essential first step in understanding the ground conditions. Correlating these markers helps identify geological structures such as faults and helps tunnellers to predict difficult ground conditions.
Initial logging of site investigation boreholes by Prof. Rory Mortimore (Chalk Rock Ltd) proved ‘normal’ white chalk with flint bands, but one borehole indicated the presence of an unusual deposit of phosphatic chalk. Further ground investigations recorded the thickest known phosphatic chalk deposits in England with several horizons of phosphatic chalks and hardgrounds separated by ‘normal’ white chalks with flint bands and marl seams.
Geological mappingIn 2003, BGS remapped the Salisbury 1:50,000 sheet including the area around Stonehenge as part of the BGS national geological mapping programme. The ‘Upper Chalk’ is now divided into four formations: the Lewes Nodular, Seaford, Newhaven and Culver Chalk formations. The geological mapping confirmed the presence of the phosphatic chalk channels and identified several faults and fold structures. The very weak sandy phosphates occur within the upper part of the Seaford Chalk Formation, and the channels are overlain by the Newhaven Chalk Formation. We were able map out the main axis of the phosphatic chalk channel which extends for almost 2 km southwest of Stonehenge. The mapping was assisted by the use of high resolution palaeontology provided by Mark Woods and Ian Wilkinson. More recent fieldwork earlier this year confirmed the spatial extent of the Newhaven Chalk infilling the channels. The data was used to construct a geological cross-section along the proposed tunnel route.
|Map of the area around Stonehenge|
Impact of geology on the tunnel schemeThe discovery of these phosphatic chalks had a major impact on the proposed tunnel scheme. The weak sandy nature of the phosphatic chalk, and the identification of several zones of weathered or faulted chalk influenced the design of the proposed tunnel and the machinery required to excavate it. The possibility of radon gas from the potential radioactive minerals in the phosphatic chalks and the risk of groundwater contamination were other environmental considerations. Disposal of phosphate-rich tunnelling spoil also posed a problem as it was likely to impact local vegetation.
The nature of the geology and groundwater conditions led to construction costs to more than double from £183 million to an eye watering £470 million! On 20 July 2005 the tunnel scheme was withdrawn by the Government partly due to rising costs of construction.
New tunnel schemeIn January this year, the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling announced a new proposal for the Stonehenge bypass including a 2.9 km tunnel to the south of the initial scheme at an estimated cost of £1.4 billon. The preferred route is to be announced this summer. BGS mapping suggests that this new tunnel will also intersect phosphatic chalk. Geology matters…
Further readingDetails of the geology of the Stonehenge area based on the site investigations for the 2002 tunnel scheme and BGS mapping have just been published in the Proceedings of the Geologists' Association.
Andy Farrant is the regional geologist for SE England
Monday, 14 August 2017
In July, the 14th Stable Isotope Mass Spectrometry User Group (SIMSUG) meeting was hosted by the Stable Isotope Facility at the British Geological Survey. SIMSUG brings together scientific users, engineers, manufacturers, and suppliers of mass spectrometry equipment to discuss new applications and developments in stable isotope research and analytical instrumentation. Although the meeting has been held annually in the past, the last SIMSUG was hosted six years ago in 2011 by Lancaster University Centre for Ecology and Hydrology – so about time for a catch up!
Over 80 delegates attended this year’s meeting representing many disciplines and affiliations, including UK- and EU-based universities, research institutes, academic journals, and mass spectrometry companies. The meeting kicked-off with a tour of the BGS, including the geological walkway and core stores, and the stable isotope, geochronology, inorganic and organic geochemistry facilities, highlighting the broad range of geoscience, health, and environmental research undertaken at the BGS.
|Delegates of SIMSUG 2017|
A conference dinner was held at the National Justice Museum where delegates were able to enjoy an informative and interactive tour of Nottingham’s historic courthouse and jail. Dinner was followed by a guided walk through the city.
|Discussions continued over dinner at the |
National Justice Museum
Congratulations to all PhD students who won prizes. The quality of the presentations and posters was very high indeed and all student presenters received commendation from the judges, Peter and Tamsin. The award for best overall presenter went to Benjamin Bell (University of Manchester), best talk to Hal Bradbury (University of Cambridge), and best poster to Kim Wood (SUERC). Well done everyone!
Thanks to our sponsors (Thermo Fisher, Elementar, Sercon, Elemtex, Isoanalytical, Goss Scientific, Elemental Microanalysis, QRA) and to the rest of the Stable Isotope Facility organising team. Catch up with #SIMSUG2017 on Twitter!
We hope to see everyone again at SIMSUG 2019, which will be hosted by the Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility at the University of Bristol.
For more information on SIMSUG, please visit the group’s Facebook page.