Lectures

Lecture Programme 2013-2014

Our varied programme of illustrated lectures runs from October to Easter.  Speakers and topics are carefully chosen to provide interest for both the amateur and professional geologist.

These meetings also provide an informal opportunity to chat to other members, and to gain advice from local experts on visiting geological localities.  Each year, a celebrity lecture is given by a geologist of international repute, who is invited jointly by the Society and the Geological Society of Glasgow.  At the annual Fellows' Night, members can give accounts of their own geological interests, specimens or travels.  

Lectures are usually on Wednesday evenings at 7.30 pm. These meetings are open to the public, there is no charge, and visitors are most welcome. Tea and biscuits, also at no charge, are served following the lecture in the Cockburn Museum of the Grant Institute.The lectures usually take place in the Hutton Lecture Theatre in the Grant Institute of Geology, on the University of Edinburgh's King's Buildings campus.
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16 October Andy Dugmore University of Edinburgh  Well-adapted, communal practitioners of environmental sustainability, but still extinct: poignant messages from the end of Norse Greenland abstract below

30 October Graham Leslie BGS Edinburgh Accretion and tectonic amalgamation in East Avalonia – a geological evolution of Ynys Môn (President’s Lecture) abstract below

13 November Mike Bentley University of Durham The Antarctic ice sheet and climate change abstract below

27 November Dave Schofield BGS Cardiff The problem with terranes: accretionary tectonics in southern Britain abstract below

11 December Fellows’ Night & Social Evening at BGS, Murchison House, Edinburgh. This meeting, close to the anniversary of the founding of the Society, is a chance to meet other members of the Society informally, with a series of short talks given by members, followed by a wine and cheese reception, expertly selected by John Mendum. (Soft drinks will be available.) Booking for the event is not required and tickets will not be sold in advance, but those wishing to stay for the Reception are asked to pay £6 on the night. list of speakers below

09 January Professor Chris Hawkesworth, University of St Andrews The Evolution of the Continental Crust: the isotope legacy - Joint ‘celebrity’ lecture IN GLASGOW. Gregory Building, Lilybank Gardens, Glasgow University 7:30pm abstract below

15 January Dougal Jerram, DougalEarth Consulting In the footsteps of Powell: The Grand Canyon Geology by wooden boat! abstract below

29 January Professor Zoe Shipton, University of Strathclyde UK Shale gas: frack on, frack off or frack well? abstract below

12 February John Crone, formerly Development Geologist, Scottish Coal Company Ltd The geology and history of surface mining in east Ayrshire - Joint Mining Institute of Scotland lecture hosted by the MIS in the Murchison House Common Room abstract below

26 February Professor Tony Fallick, SUERC - Clough Medal Lecture Planet Earth’s Mid-Life Crisis
abstract below

12 March Professor Jane Evans, NIGL Tracing visitors to our shores: the application of isotope analysis to archaeological human migration studies. abstract below

26 March Dr Kathryn Goodenough, BGS The global critical metals hunt abstract below

 

Well-adapted, communal practitioners of environmental sustainability, but still extinct: poignant messages from the end of Norse Greenland

Andy Dugmore

Norse Greenland is seen as an iconic case of failure in the face of climate change. A cautionary tale of how mal-adapted and inflexible European settlers pushed into the Arctic during the Medieval Warm period, only to die horribly during the Little Ice Age as a result of their unsustainable practises, unwillingness to change and rejection of the alternative life ways practised by the Inuit. I will argue that this rather comfortable narrative is wrong and that the Norse Greenlanders created a flexible and successful subsistence system that responded effectively to major environmental challenges over multi-century timescales. Ultimately, they probably fell victim to a combination of conjunctures of large-scale historic processes and vulnerabilities created by their successful prior response to climate change. Their failure was because they could not anticipate an unknowable future, their inability to broaden their traditional ecological knowledge base, and a case of being too specialized, too small, and too isolated to be able to capitalize on and compete in the new protoworld system extending into the North Atlantic in the early 15th century.

Graham Leslie BGS Edinburgh

Accretion and tectonic amalgamation in East Avalonia – a geological evolution of Ynys Môn (President’s Lecture)

Edward Greenly viewed the older schists and quartzites of Anglesey with ‘great trepidation’ – perhaps with great foresight. Some 100 years on, it is now apparent that Late Neoprot-erozoic accretion at the outboard margin of East Avalonia is recorded on Anglesey in ca. 650 Ma metamorphism in the Coedana Complex, the ca. 615 Ma supra-subduction zone Coedana Granite, and ca. 560 Ma exhumation of the Penmynydd Zone blueschists. Thrusting complexity upon complexity however, Anglesey’s present architecture is largely a product of repeated cycles of accretionary tectonics against peri-Gondwana that commenced in the Early Ordovician when coaxial to intensely non-coaxial SE-vergent deformation assembled the Late Neoproterozoic rocks with the Middle Cambrian (to earliest? Ordovician) Monian Supergroup. This cycle is consistent with Penobscottian accretion in the northern Appalachians. Those Monian rocks were at surface (and deeply weathered?) before sub-aerial eruption of the (early Arenig?) ca. 300 m thick, acid Church Bay Tuff Formation. The tuffs are overlain unconformably by a Middle Ordovician to early Silurian marine foreland basin succession now arranged, with its basement, in a SE-vergent (Salinic?) thrust stack. All of that orogenesis pre-dates Acadian deformation recorded in Devonian strata on Anglesey.

Professor Mike Bentley Department of Geography, University of Durham

Antarctic Ice Sheets and Climate Change

The Antarctic Ice Sheets hold enough ice to raise global sea level by more than 60m and so the continent has been a focus for recent concerns about the magnitude and rate of future sea level rise. This lecture will explain the geology and glaciology that underpins these concerns, and will discuss the latest results of research on the stability of, and recent changes to, these ice sheets. Current studies include satellite remote sensing, work from aircraft, and ground-based geological work. The behaviour of the ice sheets is complex and the processes occurring in the West and East Antarctic Ice Sheets are very different. The net effect of these different, and sometimes opposing effects, is that the ice sheet is currently shrinking, and so is adding to the global sea level rise from other sources. The lecture will end with an outlook on future changes in the Antarctic Ice Sheets.

Dave Schofield BGS Cardiff

The problem with terranes: accretionary tectonics in southern Britain

During the 1970’s, the recognition of allochthonous terranes as discrete lithospheric fragments gave geologists a new tool kit to help describe the mosaic-like complexity of orogenic belts. Understanding that terranes could be dispersed and recombined accompanied realisation that strike-slip translation contributed significantly to orogenic development. In applying this to understanding the largely concealed, late Neoproterozoic and Lower Palaeozoic record of southern Britain, conflicts in nomenclature, scales of observation and focus of the geologists themselves has led to a confusing picture where terranes are essentially reduced to snapshots in time rather than lithospheric entities evolving in both time and space. This talk takes a look at this problem and uses summaries of isotopic data to contrast Neoproterozoic rocks with their Cambrian cover successions in southern Britain and those in the Caledonian-Appalachian Orogen as a whole, and looks at when the component terranes may have been assembled and largely stabilised.

Fellows' Night speakers

John Mendum - "Southwest Australia - Tectonics on a continental edge"

Al McGowan - "To the top of the world to explore the end of an Era :Studying the Permian-Triassic mass extinction on Svalbard"

Prof Brian Upton - "Treaures from the bowels of the Earth: the Loch Roag dyke"

David Milward "Conquering the land - 360 million years ago - a brief introduction to the TW:eed project"

Professor Chris Hawkesworth, University of St Andrews

The Evolution of the Continental Crust: the isotope legacy

Joint ‘celebrity’ lecture IN GLASGOW

The discovery of radioactivity changed our understanding of the thermal evolution of the Earth, and provided ways to determine the age of the Earth and time scales of geological change. Isotopes were first described by Soddy in 1913, and much later the high precision measurement of radiogenic isotope ratios markedly changed the study of the continental crust. The discussions shifted from the movement of continents, and how they once fitted together, to models for when and how the continents formed, and the evolution of the Earth’s crust and mantle. The continental crust is characterised by peaks in the distribution of U-Pb crystallization ages, and these coincide with the ages of super-continents. Such peaks may reflect periods of high magmatic activity or, as argued here, the preservation potential of magmatic rocks in different tectonic settings. The peaks marked times of increased preservation within the crust, rather than times of anomalously high volumes of magma generation. Even though <5% of present continental crust is older than 3 Ga, there is increasing evidence that ~60-70% of the present volume of the continental crust had been generated by that time.

Dougal Jerram, DougalEarth Consulting

In the footsteps of Powell: The Grand Canyon Geology by wooden boat!

In 1869, 9 men entered the unknown and unmapped Grand Canyon on 3 wooden boats. They recorded the landscape, the geology and the river for the first time, and by the end of their exploration six men emerged from the Canyon. In 2013 9 men in three wooden boats entered the Grand Canyon on a new expedition, to follow in the footsteps of the 1869 expedition, for a BBC production. I took part in this expedition and will take you through the journey and the geology of the Grand Canyon as experienced on a Powell Boat.

Professor Zoe Shipton, University of Strathclyde

UK Shale gas: frack on, frack off or frack well?

In the UK, public concern about hydraulic fracturing for shale gas (fracking) was triggered by low magnitude earth tremors induced by exploratory activities in Lancashire in April 2011. The resulting embargo on fracking for shale gas was lifted by DECC in Dec 2012. Campaign groups such as Frack Off argue that shale gas extraction could produce significant environmental damage, whereas proponents of the shale gas industry argue that an indigenous source of UK gas will enhance energy security and may result in falling household energy bills. Indeed it is now possible to buy “Keep calm and frack on” T-shirts on the web! In this talk I will argue that it should be possible to “frack well” - i.e. extract potentially considerable shale gas resources in the least environmentally damaging way. A Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering working group report on “Shale gas extraction in the UK: a review of the scientific and engineering evidence” investigated the major risks associated with fracking and asked how these risks can be effectively managed. The report found that the health and safety and environmental risks associated with fracking for shale gas can be managed effectively in the UK as long as operational best practices are implemented and enforced through legislation. The risk of groundwater contamination (both from natural gas and water and from fracking fluids) via hydraulic fractures is very low. Seismicity is also a very low risk, and where it does occur is likely to be at magnitudes less than those regularly felt near abandoned coalfields. Ensuring borehole integrity must be the highest priority to prevent groundwater and surface contamination. The joint academies report recommended implementing robust monitoring systems to address uncertainties in the subsurface process and to strengthen public confidence. If we can convince the public that it is possible to ‘frack well’, shale gas has a place as a bridge between traditional, declining fossil fuels and renewables.

John Crone, formerly Development Geologist, Scottish Coal Company Ltd.

The geology and history of surface mining in east Ayrshire - Joint Mining Institute of Scotland lecture hosted by the MIS in the Murchison House Common Room

East Ayrshire has a long history of surface mining for coal and to a lesser extent for ironstone. In recent times production here accounted for nearly 50% of all coal mined in Scotland. This talk outlines the geology of the coalfields and describes how the industry developed over the years alongside deep mine operations.

Geological structures encountered are discussed, together with how the variable characteristics of the coal seams can be further affected by igneous intrusion and lime burning. Reference will be made to exploration techniques and working site operations.

Speaker: John Crone was born in London and graduated in geology from the University of Nottingham. He joined the NCB Opencast Executive in 1970 based in Durham and was subsequently appointed Area Opencast Geologist in Ayrshire in 1977. He remained in Ayrshire and the coal industry up to and after privatisation, latterly as a development geologist for the Scottish Coal Company based at Broken Cross in Lanarkshire. He retired in 2013.

Professor Tony Fallick, SUERC Clough Medal Lecture

Planet Earth’s Mid-Life Crisis

 

Approximately half way through its 4.6 billion year history, a series of major upheavals affected our planet. Amongst these were the first known global glaciation (the Huronian), the establishment of free oxygen in the atmosphere/ocean (referred to by Lovelock as the greatest pollution event of all time), a major change in seawater chemistry (relatively abundant dissolved sulphate), an unprecedented positive excursion in the stable carbon isotopic composition of marine carbonate, the earliest known significant oil generation (the Shunga event), and fundamental changes to the operation of the biosphere.

The Archaean-Proterozoic transition was a crucial step in the eventual establishment of the modern earth system, and rocks spanning this period were the target of a major International Continental Drilling Program in Fennoscandian Russia. The context to the study will be explained, early results will be assessed, and some of the new ideas which have emerged will be introduced.

Professor Jane Evans, NIGL
Tracing visitors to our shores: the application of isotope analysis to archaeological human migration studies.

If you excavate a burial which contains a beautiful Germanic brooch, can you conclude that the person is of continental origin, or simply that a German brooch was brought in Britain? It is one of the big questions in archaeology: Do people move or do artefacts move? On a larger scale; was there a large influx of Saxons/Romans/Vikings into Britain who settled here and change the culture, or did a few individual, and their contacts, change the social habits of the indigenous population?
Isotope analysis is providing a method of addressing these questions because we can look at the composition of someone’s tooth and determine whether they came from the area in which they are buried, or if they are from elsewhere. The strontium isotope composition can be used to relate a person, via geology, to the land on which they lived and derived their food, whereas oxygen isotopes reflect the climate zone in which they were raised. Together, these two “fingerprints” are providing us with new insights into the behaviour and movement of people in the past.

This talk explains the methods we use and presents case studies of recent excavations such as the Vikings from Weymouth, the Archer from Stonehenge and Richard III.

Dr Kathryn Goodenough, BGS
The global critical metals hunt

The critical metals are those metals used in a range of new technologies, for which demand is increasing and there are potential threats to security of supply. Examples of critical metals include the Rare Earth Elements, niobium and tantalum, which are used in a range of applications such as high-strength magnets, batteries, capacitors and corrosion-resistant alloys. At BGS, we are researching the processes by which these metals are concentrated in the crust, using examples in the UK and abroad. We have studied a number of different igneous suites to investigate the importance of magmatic and hydrothermal processes in critical metal mineralisation. This talk will describe some of the geological environments in which these metals are found, and will consider the problems in mining them. The talk will be illustrated by field examples from Scotland, Greenland, Nigeria and Madagascar.

 

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