Lecture Programme 2015-2016

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 EH9 3JW.

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14 October 2015, 7.30pm Prof. Euan Clarkson, University of Edinburgh
The Cambrian Alum Shales of Scandinavia and their extraordinary faunas

28 October, 7.30pm Dr. Adrian Hall, University of St. Andrews
Glacial erosion of oldlands

11 November, 7.30pm Dr. Nick Schofield, University of Aberdeen
A World of Intrusions: From Salisbury Crags to South Australia (and back again)

25 November, 7.30pm Prof. Rachel Wood, University of Edinburgh
The ‘Great Dying’: what really happened 252 million years ago?

9 December, 6.30pm Fellows’ Night & Social Evening
BGS, Murchison House, Edinburgh

This meeting, close to the anniversary of the foundation of the Society, is a chance to meet other members informally, with a series of short talks given by members, followed by a wine (or soft drinks) and cheese reception, expertly selected by John Mendum. Booking for the event is not required and tickets will not be sold in advance. Admission to the Reception will be £6, payable on the night. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE START TIME THIS YEAR IS 6.30PM. This is to allow people to catch buses and get home earlier than in previous years.

Mike Browne/Graham Leslie- 'Geology in 3D - Spireslack'
Caroline Paterson - 'Testimony of the Rocks'
Isla Simmons/Rachel Whitty - 'Volcanic Monitoring in Iceland'
Richard Smith - 'Long Excursion to Norway'

13 January 2016, 7.30pm Dr Stephen Brusatte, University of Edinburgh
Scotland's Jurassic Park: The Isle of Skye and New Fossil Discoveries by the PalAlba Group

27th January, 7.30pm Hamish Johnston, great-great-grandson of Professor Matthew Heddle (1828-97)
Matthew Forster Heddle, Mineralogist, Mountaineer and former EGS president

10th February, 7.30pm Professor Zoe Shipton, University of Strathclyde
The energy trilemma in Scotland: can shale gas help?

11th February, 7.30pm Professor Stephen Hesselbo, Cambourne School of Mines
Rhythms of the Jurassic (lecture)
Joint Celebrity Lecture with Geological Society of Glasgow, in Glasgow - more information

24th February, 7.30pm (Joint lecture with the Mining Institute of Scotland)
Dr Ruth Robinson, University of St. Andrews
Geothermal Project for heating at Guardbridge
(please note this lecture will be held at BGS Murchison House, West Mains Road EH9 3LA)

9th March, 7.30pm Dr Brian Bell, University of Glasgow: Clough medal lecture
Palaeogene magmatic evolution of Western Scotland, with a nod to the work of Clough

23rd March, 7.30pm The Queensferry Crossing: Aspects of Engineering Geology for the Main Crossing - Paul Mellon, Forth Replacement Crossing Employer's Delivery Team
Ground Model and Associated Ground Improvement Techniques for the Northern Approach Roads - Steve Deykin, Forth Replacement Crossing Employer's Delivery Team


14 October Professor Emeritus Euan N.K. Clarkson, FRSE, School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh

Euan studied geology at the University of Cambridge and has enjoyed a long career as a palaeontologist and research scientist at the University of Edinburgh. Euan's is widely recognised for his research concerned with trilobites, most especially the remarkable visual systems of the varied marine organisms, Palaeozoic stratigraphy, and his involvement in identifying the true significance of Conodonts. A prolific publication record and motivating teacher, Euan has authored some 100 or more papers and other publications, including the book ‘Invertebrate Palaeontology and Evolution’ that is widely regarded as the standard palaeontological text for undergraduates. A former President of the Edinburgh Geological Society (1985-87), Euan has also served as President of the Palaeontological Association (1998-2000) and was awarded the Geological Society of London's Coke medal in 2010.

The Cambrian Alum Shales of Scandinavia and their extraordinary faunas

The Middle and Upper Cambrian Alum Shales of Scandinavia, <80m thick, contain vast numbers of superbly preserved fossils, chiefly trilobites, with all growth stages represented. The sequence records large- and small-scale environmental changes, notably a well-oxygenated middle Cambrian environment being abruptly replaced by a dysoxic facies, with its own specialised trilobites of the Order Olenida. Old quarries in the south of Sweden form a superb natural laboratory for the study of the history of this unusual extinct environment and its faunas, and environmental controls acting upon it. Some extreme modifications of trilobite anatomy are evident, though what they mean in biological terms is not certain. As well as the trilobites, there are other faunas, especially three-dimensional phosphatised crustaceans and other arthropods, which have enabled early stages in arthropod evolution to be documented.

28 October Dr Adrian Hall, Honorary Reader, School of Geography and Geosciences, St. Andrews, adjunct Professor of Geomorphology at Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University. Currently Director of ICT Fettes College.

Adrian carries out wide-ranging and diverse research with colleagues across Europe that concerns the origins of scenery and landforms in the Tertiary and Quaternary geomorphology, in particular in the Cairngorms of Scotland. His current research deals with rates and patterns of change in glacial landscapes; the extent and behaviour of the last ice sheet in Scotland; extreme waves and the evolution of coastal cliffs; long term rates and processes of shore platform erosion; and development of shield landscapes in northern Fennoscandia.


Glacial erosion of oldlands

Geoscientists often forget that glacial erosion over the last 3 million years operated on pre-existing landscapes. Away from alpine peaks, fragments of the oldlands are obvious and often dominant elements of landscape. This lecture will examine the development of oldlands on crystalline rocks from shields, platforms and Caledonide mountain roots, mainly in Scotland and Fennoscandia. Oldlands are shown to be products of tectonics, structure, process and stage. The slow tempo of relief development is revealed by sediments, weathering covers and by a range of geological features formed at known depths. Once oldlands are characterised, it becomes possible to assess the impact of Pleistocene glacial erosion.

11 November Dr. Nick Schofield, Senior Lecturer, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen

Nick specializes in the seismic and field interpretation of intrusive and extrusive sequences in volcanic terranes including the North Atlantic Igneous Province, in particular the interaction with hydrocarbon systems. That involves integrated study of the evolution of sedimentary basins affected by volcanism and sill complexes aiming to assess the potential for intra-basaltic hydrocarbon plays. Nick has been awarded the Edinburgh Geological Society Clough Award in recognition of his scientific contribution in this field of geoscience. He is a member of the VMRC (Volcanic Margins Research Consortium) which provides the petroleum industry with training and research expertise in volcanology, sedimentology and structural geology of volcanic margins.

A World of Intrusions: From Salisbury Crags to South Australia
(and back again)

In recent years our understanding of volcanic systems has been revolutionised by the study of hydrocarbon industry 3D seismic reflection datasets from offshore sedimentary basins. In particular, 3D seismic reflection data has provided important insights into magmatic system in sedimentary basins. However, even high-quality 3D seismic reflection datasets have a limit to what they can resolve; thus, to allow a better understanding of detailed emplacement mechanisms and to test the validity of subsurface-based interpretations, it is critical to bridge the resolution gap that exists between seismic and outcrop datasets.

Magmatic sheet (sill) intrusions contribute significantly to the upper crustal magma transport network. The emplacement mechanism of the magmatic sheets controls the final geometry of the intrusions and the characteristics of host rock deformation. Hutton’s Section and John Play fairs beautiful drawings are a wonderful example of host rock deformation related to the emplacement and intrusion of the Salisbury Crags sill.

Within this talk we will delve into the somewhat weird world of magma intrusion, travelling from Salisbury Crags, to South Africa, Australia, the North Atlantic and America (and even down a German Salt mine!) and show how it is possible to reconstruct details of magma flow within intrusions using fundamental Mk.1 eyeball observation! We will see that what Playfair drew over 200 years ago is having profound implications not just for our understanding of how magma moves through basins, but also for our understanding petroleum systems in volcanic effected basins.

25 November Prof. Rachel Wood, University of Edinburgh

Well known to the Edinburgh Geological Society having served both on Council and the Clough Committee, on this occasion we welcome the opportunity to learn about Rachel’s research into the relationship between catastrophic environmental change (mass extinction events), the disruption of ecologically complex reef communities, and changes in carbonate production. Rachel is co-director of the International Centre for Carbonate reservoirs, the largest dedicated academic research group in Europe working on carbonate hydrocarbon reservoirs, and challenges related to exploring, characterising, and modelling carbonate reservoirs.

The ‘Great Dying’: what really happened 252 million years ago?

At the boundary of the Permian and Triassic, ~252 million years ago, is the greatest mass extinction documented, where we estimate that more than 90% of Earth’s species died. The “PT” or 'Great Dying' hit marine species the hardest - killing off, for instance, the once ubiquitous trilobites.

Recent work has shown that ocean acidification triggered by Siberian Trap volcanism was a possible kill mechanism for this mass extinction. We present a high-resolution seawater pH record across this interval, using boron isotope data from the UAE combined with a quantitative modelling approach. In the latest Permian, increased ocean alkalinity primed the Earth system with a low level of atmospheric CO2 and a high ocean buffering capacity. The first phase of extinction was coincident with a slow injection of carbon into the atmosphere, and ocean pH remained stable. During the second extinction pulse, however, a rapid and large injection of carbon caused an abrupt acidification event that drove the preferential loss of heavily calcified marine biota.

As such, the extinction holds a cautionary lesson for today: because of CO2 released by burning fossil fuels, oceans could now be acidifying even faster than they did 250 million years ago, although the process hasn’t yet persisted nearly as long.

13 January 2016 Dr Stephen Brusatte, University of Edinburgh

Though interested in the anatomy, genealogy, and evolution of fossil vertebrates, Stephen’s particular research interests are the origin and early evolution of dinosaurs in the Triassic, the anatomy and genealogy of carnivorous theropod dinosaurs (T. rex and it’s kin), the evolution of birds from theropods, the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, the recovery and radiation of mammals after the end-Cretaceous extinction, and the evolution of marine crocodylomorphs during the Mesozoic. He is a key member of the PalAlba Group, dedicated to preserving Scotland’s fossil heritage and recently led the team reporting Scotland's First Mesozoic Marine Reptile: The Ichthyosaur Dearcmhara shawcrossi - a 170-million-year-old, approximately 4-meter-long, top-of-the-food-chain fish eater discovered on the Isle of Skye. In addition, he is currently working in the Triassic of Portugal and Poland, the Cretaceous of Romania, and the Cretaceous-Paleogene of New Mexico (USA). His work has appeared in Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Nature Communications, as well as our own BBC.

Scotland's Jurassic Park: The Isle of Skye and New Fossil Discoveries by the PalAlba Group

The Isle of Skye is Scotland's Jurassic Park, the only place in the country where dinosaur fossils can be found. It is also a globally important palaeontological treasure, as it yields abundant bones, teeth, and footprints of dinosaurs, crocodiles, mammals, and other animals from the Middle Jurassic (ca. 170 million years ago), one of the most poorly understood time intervals in vertebrate evolution. Over the past few years researchers from across Scotland have come together to form the PalAlba group, which is working on Skye (and other places). They have thus far discovered amazing new tracksites of long-necked sauropod dinosaurs, a uniquely Scottish marine reptile (Dearcmhara), and the world's oldest atoposaurid crocodile. These finds will be discussed and the great potential of Skye will be celebrated in this talk.


27th January Hamish Johnston, great-great-grandson of Professor Matthew Heddle (1828-97) and author of the first biography of ‘Matthew Forster Heddle – Mineralogist and Mountaineer’

Matthew Forster Heddle was a larger-than-life character, a renowned academic and one of Scotland's most famous mineralogists. His rich legacy includes: Encyclopaedia Britannica 9th edition (section on Mineralogy), a fossil fish Heddleichthys, a mineral named after him (Mattheddleite), a summary of the Mineralogy of Scotland (published posthumously), 55 scientific papers, 5,700 specimens from his collection now housed in the National Museum of Scotland and the National Museums Collection Centre, and 10 children. Hamish is uniquely able to inform his audience on Heddle the man, the mountaineer, and scientist.

Matthew Forster Heddle, Mineralogist, Mountaineer and former EGS president

M. Forster Heddle (1828-1897), author of The Mineralogy of Scotland (1901), was arguably Scotland’s greatest mineralogist. Surprisingly, nobody has written a biography until now. The author, Hamish Johnston, who is Heddle’s great-great-grandson, will take us through Heddle’s colourful life and scientific work, with particular reference to the Edinburgh Geological Society (he was elected President in 1851), and other themes, including his troubled time as Professor of Chemistry at St Andrews University, the controversy over the geology of the N W Highlands, his involvement with the Transvaal goldfields, his triumphant publications, and the fate of his great mineral collection.

10th February Professor Zoe Shipton, University of Strathclyde

Zoe Shipton works on the link between faulting and fluid flow in applications such as hydrocarbons, CO2 and radioactive waste storage, and geothermal energy, as well as the structure of modern and exhumed earthquake faults. She also conducts research into quantifying geological uncertainties and the perception and communication of risk and uncertainty to the geological community and the wider Society. From that background Zoe is chair of the Tectonic Studies Group of the Geological Society of London, and is a member of the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering working group on “Shale gas extraction in the UK: a review of the scientific and engineering evidence”, as well as sitting on the Scottish Government Expert Group seeking to address the issues relevant to the impact of the development of unconventional oil and gas resources in Scotland.

The energy trilemma in Scotland: can shale gas help?

The energy trilemma is the need to have secure, affordable energy supplies that produce as low an environmental impact as possible. Energy does not just refer to electricity generation, as seems to often be the focus in the media, the public debate around energy must also include energy for heat and transport. Questions around energy are often framed as simple yes-no questions. Do we want wind turbines or not? Should we or should we not frack for shale gas? However saying no to any of these individual energy sources is not consequence-free. We need a debate around energy that allows the environmental and social implications of different energy sources to be compared.

Even in the greenest of "going green" scenarios, Scotland will be reliant on gas in the near future, for power generation, heating, transport and chemical feedstocks. Proponents of the shale gas industry argue that an indigenous source of gas will enhance energy security and may result in falling household energy bills, whereas campaign groups argue that shale gas extraction could produce significant environmental damage and adverse social impacts. This talk will unpick some of the myths spread by both the pro- and anti-shale gas groups, and investigate the social and environmental impacts of our current gas supplies compared to a potential future onshore gas industry.

24th February (Joint lecture with the Mining Institute of Scotland) Dr Ruth Robinson, University of St. Andrews

Ruth’s research was initially in the area of quantitative sedimentology, using numerical models to understand river systems. From there, interests in landscape evolution developed, trying to constrain surface process rates through age dating techniques such as optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and cosmogenic-ray nuclide dating. That includes working to quantify the material fluxes and chemistry of the water and sediment transported by the Irrawaddy and Salween rivers of Burma, as well as the sediment provenance of Cenozoic deposits in central Burma and their exhumation history. Ruth is part of CERSA (the Centre of Earth Resources at St Andrews), an applied research arm of the department specialising in the exploration of minerals, metals, and geothermal energy, the last of these exemplified in the Guardbridge Energy Centre project that is central to her University’s strategic drive to become the UK’s first energy carbon neutral university.

Geothermal Project for heating at Guardbridge

The Scottish Government's Geothermal Energy Challenge Fund supported five feasibility projects from June 2015 to March 2016. The Guardbridge (Fife) project involves a team from the University of St Andrews, Town Rock Energy, Ramboll Energy, the British Geological Survey, and Fife Council (Resource Efficient Solutions). Guardbridge is the only project investigating the potential for heat extraction from a hot saline aquifer. While the economic feasibility of a 1 km borehole extracting heat for the Guardbridge site that could also potentially feed a district heating network of surrounding villages is demonstrated, there are considerable uncertainties about the geothermal resource that cannot be solved without further research and the production of new datasets. To make significant progress on intermediate enthalpy hot saline aquifer geothermal energy anywhere in Scotland, we first present the results from the Guardbridge project that demonstrate site-specific feasibility and how our results have implications for hot saline aquifer potential across the Central Belt of Scotland. We then outline the major uncertainties that have arisen during our project, and prioritise the research needs that will permit hot saline aquifer geothermal heat to progress from a perceived risk-dominated resource, to one that has economic potential and an acceptable level of risk and uncertainty.


9th March Dr Brian Bell, University of Glasgow

Recipient of the Edinburgh Geological Society Clough Medal, Brian believes that the natural laboratory for the Earth Sciences is in the field, and so that is where most of his research starts, and where he train and enthuse future generations of Earth Science students. Much of his research has involved the Palaeogene lava fields in the North Atlantic Igneous Province, in NW Scotland, the Faroe Islands and in Greenland - attempting to understand the complex interplay between volcanism, sedimentation and tectonism., At present as Brian will say, more money is spent exploring the volcanic prone NE Atlantic Margin for oil and gas than anywhere else in the UK. Currently Brian is engaged in research into tephra provenance in the North Atlantic Igneous province; the thermal influence of sills on oil reservoir sandstones; the interplay of lavas, hyaloclastites and basin dynamics; volcaniclastic sedimentation in continental flood lava fields; and the early evolution of the Mull Lava Field, NW Scotland.

Palaeogene magmatic evolution of Western Scotland, with a nod to the work of Clough

In this presentation I will outline the history of research and our current understanding of the volcanism that occurred in the British Isles during the Palaeogene Period. I will present field observations to explain the complex and diverse nature of the volcanic activity in this spectacular province.


23rd March The Queensferry Crossing: " Aspects of Engineering Geology for the Main Crossing - Paul Mellon, Forth Replacement Crossing Employer's Delivery Team " Ground Model and Associated Ground Improvement Techniques for the Northern Approach Roads - Steve Deykin, Forth Replacement Crossing Employer's Delivery Team

The Forth Replacement Crossing (Queensferry Crossing) project has required significant engineering geological effort from both the Client's delivery team and the Design and Build Contractor's team. The first paper illustrates some of the key aspects of engineering geology relating to the foundations for the main crossing, from initial ground investigation through to construction-phase verification of design assumptions by formation inspection under water. The second paper describes how designing the northern approach roads required a thorough understanding of the geological, geomorphological and anthropogenic processes that have formed the underlying landscape and how the resultant highly variable ground conditions were addressed using a range of ground improvement techniques, including controlled modulus columns, trench mix techniques, band drains and piling.




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