EGS Evening Lectures

Public Lectures are held on alternate Wednesday evenings during the winter. These are aimed at anyone with an interest in Earth science. Afterwards, you can enjoy a cup of tea and a chat with the speaker and fellow members of the Society.

Our varied programme of illustrated evening lectures runs from October to Easter, usually on Wednesday evenings at 7.30 pm.

They are open to the public free of charge, and visitors are welcome. The lectures usually take place in the Hutton Lecture Theatre in the Grant Institute of Geology, The King’s Buildings, James Hutton Road, Edinburgh EH9 3FE. Tea and biscuits, also at no charge, are served following the lecture in the Cockburn Museum of the Grant Institute.

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 find out more about geological sites from local experts. 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 give accounts of their own geological interests, specimens or travels.

EGS Evening Lecture Programme 2017-2018

Wednesday 11 October 2017, 7.30pm Dr Phil Wilby, BGS Keyworth

Life just got complicated: the Ediacaran fossils of Charnwood Forest

The late Ediacaran (approx. 580-541 Myrs ago) was a transformative period in the evolution of the Earth-life system. It witnessed dramatic changes in the compositions of the oceans and atmosphere, the emergence of large (i.e. macroscopic) organisms, and the development of the first complex ecosystems. These paved the way for the modern world, but the nature of the organisms, and in particular their relationship (if any) to animals, is contentious. New finds of diverse fossil assemblages in the Ediacaran strata of Charnwood Forest (UK) reveal a world dominated by bizarre fractal organisms, some over a metre long, whose lives – including feeding, growth, reproduction and responsiveness – are now coming into focus. Alongside them are rare forms, some with a tantalisingly familiar biology…….

Phil Wilby works for the British Geological Survey in Keyworth, and led a team who re-excavated a famous fossil site in the Oxford Clay near Chippenham, first discovered during railway construction in the 1840s and the source of important Jurassic fish and cephalopods.

Wednesday 25 October, 7.30pm Dr Chris Duffin, Retired

Richard Owen and Fossil Vertebrates

Cadaverous in appearance and irascible in nature, Richard Owen (1804-1892) was the self-styled “British Cuvier”. It was he who introduced the term “dinosaur”, described hordes of fossil reptiles, the earliest mammals, and intimated the existence of giant antipodean fossil birds from a single bone fragment. A great rival of Darwin, he was at the forefront of palaeontological research for decades and both honoured and revered at home and abroad. It was he who oversaw the establishment of the Natural History Museum at South Kensington, and the model dinosaurs now in Sydenham Park.

Wednesday 1 November, 7 pm Public Lecture: Scotland’s recent fossil finds

In the last few years, very exciting new fossil finds have been made in several locations in Scotland, unlocking the secrets of key moments in evolution. In Skye and the Inner Hebrides, new reptile and mammal finds from the middle Jurassic add important knowledge about this time period which is sparsely represented elsewhere. In the Scottish Borders, new tetrapod fossils help fill ‘Romer’s Gap’ and demonstrate the migration of vertebrate life onto land and the evolution of our first five-fingered ancestors. And the pavements of Edinburgh and other urban areas are providing new Devonian fish fossils and furthering our understanding of life in Devonian lakes.

This public lecture gives the opportunity to hear first-hand about major advances in our understanding of Scotland’s geology and the evolution of life. Chaired by Mark Stephen from BBC Radio Scotland, the panel will include Nick Fraser (National Museums Scotland) and Steve Brusatte, Elsa Panciroli and Tom Challands (all from the University of Edinburgh). Venue: Appleton Tower, 11 Crichton Street, Edinburgh EH8 9LE.

>>> more details and booking information

Wednesday 8 November, 7.30pm Dr Aubrey Lea Zerkle, Univ St Andrews

The thin atmospheric envelope of modern Earth compared to the thick hydrocarbon haze of Titan (photo credit NASA)

Biological Regulation of Planetary Atmospheres: Insights from the Early Earth

One fundamental question in natural science is how life evolved on Earth. What we know beyond a reasonable doubt is that simple single-celled organisms evolved in the oceans greater than 3 billion years ago. What is becoming increasingly apparent is that the chemistry of the Earth surface (both the atmosphere and the oceans) has undergone dramatic changes since that first cell division occurred. What we now seek to understand is how the evolution of life has responded to, and in some cases driven, these changes in Earth surface environments. Here I will discuss recent geochemical records of how biology contributed to the most dramatic change in Earth surface chemistry, the Great Oxidation Event (GOE). The GOE fundamentally altered the face of our planet and produced the habitable biosphere we inhabit today. Notably, understanding how life evolved on this planet will inform our search for habitable planets in other solar systems.

Aubrey Lea Zerkle is a biogeochemist with a primary interest in the early Earth and extraterrestrial environments.

Wednesday 22 November, 7.30pm Prof Jenny Clack, Univ Cambridge

Scotland: the world’s greatest place for vertebrate palaeontology?

Scotland’s ancient, concentrated and diverse geological history has meant that per unit area it is arguably the best place in the world for Palaeozoic vertebrate fossils. Ranging from the Silurian through to the Permian it has representatives from every period. Triassic and Jurassic vertebrates are also significant. Notably, it has probably the world’s richest record of Carboniferous tetrapods, yielding the majority of those globally rare early Carboniferous forms. Most recently, it has provided an array of tetrapods from the Tournaisian stage known for its paucity of such fossils, informally called ‘Romer’s Gap’. In the Ballagan Formation of the Scottish Borders region, our TW:eed project has discovered that no such gap exists. Rather, this was the time when tetrapods first began to diversify on land, and founded the base of the modern tetrapod fauna.

Wednesday 6 December, 7.30pm Fellows’ Night

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 refreshments. The event will be held in the upper level of the Lyell Centre, Heriot Watt Campus (Research Ave S, Edinburgh EH14 4AP – click for map, the entrance is at the eastern corner of the building). Lothian Buses service 25 runs from the city centre to the Heriot Watt Campus.

Booking is not required. We are very grateful to BGS Scotland for hosting this event.

Talks programme:

1. Alison Tymon – What the BADGERS found: keen geologists dig deep in the erstwhile Lower Magnesian Limestones in Boston Spa Woods, West Yorkshire

2. Chris Lofthouse – Artisinal gold mining in the Nubian Desert

3. Paige dePolo – Tracking Down the Dinosaurs of Scotland

4. Angus Miller – The 51 Best Places to see Scotland’s Geology

Any questions, please contact Chris Lofthouse (

Wednesday 10 January 2018, 7.30pm Asher Haynes, Sirius Minerals

Sirius Minerals and Polyhalite – the Future of Fertilizer

Sirius Minerals Plc is a FTSE listed company focussed on the development of its polyhalite mining project in North Yorkshire.

The Project’s minerals area contains what the Company believes to be the world’s largest known high-grade polyhalite resource, which is sold as a multi-nutrient fertilizer.

The Project will consist of a new mine located 3.5km south of Whitby in North Yorkshire, which will extract the polyhalite ore, a 36.7km underground mineral transport system (MTS) that will convey the ore to a granulation facility on Teesside, and a new export quay on the River Tees. Construction is already underway and once in operation the mine and facilities will employ over 1000 people.

Wednesday 24 January, 7.30pm MIS/EGS Joint Lecture: Dr Jonathan Cloutier, Univ St Andrews

The use of short-wave infrared hyperspectral reflectance in mineral exploration

Hyperspectral reflectance spectroscopy across the visible, near and shortwave infrared (350–2500 nm) has the ability to identify mineralogical changes associated with hydrothermal ore deposits. It is a rapid and relatively inexpensive technique that can collect high density data in real time in the field, making this technique ideal for mineral exploration.
My presentation will use examples from volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS), orogenic gold and unconformity-related uranium deposits to unravel what can the visible and infrared spectrum tell us about mineralisation processes related to the formation of ore deposits.

Jonathan Cloutier is a lecturer in Economic Geology at the University of St Andrews. His research aims to increase our understanding of the genesis and geodynamic setting of economic mineral deposits using a multidisciplinary and multi-scale approach.

Wednesday 7 February, AGM 7pm, Lecture 7.30pm Hannah Watkins, Univ Aberdeen

Predicting strain and fracture patterns in a fold-thrust belt, NW Scotland

Progressive deformation is known to occur in fold-thrust belts as thrusts propagate and folds amplify. An understanding of how strain, in particular fractures, is distributed throughout fold-thrust belts is important for understanding fractured hydrocarbon reservoirs. The Achnashellach Culmination in the Moine Thrust Belt, NW Scotland, is used as an outcrop analogue to a subsurface fractured reservoir. Strain modelling on fold-thrust belt cross sections and on 3D anticline models is undertaken to predict strain and fracture distribution. Modelling results are compared with field fracture data to determine how predictable strain is and what the main controls on fracture distribution are.

Hannah Watkins was awarded the Society’s Clough Memorial Award in 2016-17. This lecture gives us the opportunity to present the Award, and to hear about her work.

Wednesday 21 February, 7.30pm Clough Medal Lecture & joint lecture with the Geological Society of Glasgow: Prof Bob Holdsworth, Univ Durham

Cracked and full of sand: insights into the development of fractured basement reservoirs west of Shetland

Bob Holdsworth (1), Eddie Dempsey (1), Ken McCaffrey (1), Nick Roberts (2)
1 Durham University/Geospatial Research, Durham, UK (in collaboration with the Clair Joint Venture Group)
2 British Geological Survey, Keyworth, Nottingham, UK

The fractured Precambrian gneisses of the 200km long Rona Ridge form the SE margin of the Faroe-Shetland Basin (FSB). Uplifted during Cretaceous-age normal faulting, it is flanked and immediately overlain by Devonian to Cretaceous cover sequences. Basement-hosted oil is known to occur in substantial volumes in at least two fields (Clair, Lancaster). Re-Os dating of bitumen and new U-Pb dating of calcite fills suggests that mineralization and oil charge occurred over a period of 20-30 Ma during the Upper Cretaceous.

A new study of basement cores was carried out to assess the mechanisms and timing of oil charge and other fracture-hosted mineralization. Oil charge is everywhere associated with quartz-adularia-calcite-pyrite mineralization and is hosted in meshes of interconnected shear/tensile fractures that formed during a single protracted, episode of brittle deformation. This association is recognized in all basement cores containing oil and also in locally overlying well-cemented Devonian and Upper Jurassic clastic sequences (Figs 1a-f).

Mineralization and oil charge is everywhere associated with clastic sedimentary material which occurs either as vein-hosted injected slurries or as laminated infills in mm to dm-scale open fractures. The latter preserve delicate way-up criteria and geopetal structures. The largest accumulations of oil are found either in the poorly-cemented sedimentary infills or in fracture-hosted vuggy cavities up to (at least) several cm across. All these features, together with the widespread development of zoned mineral cements and cockade textures suggest a near surface (<1-2km depth) low-temperature hydrothermal system. Highly dilated, open fractures developed in strong basement and overlying well cemented sedimentary rocks and were able to act as long-lived fluid channel-ways. There is no evidence for reactivation. Oil saturation likely periodically shut down fracture cementation. The widespread preservation of dilational pull-apart features, together with the development of injected sediment-mineral slurries, and possible silica gels along faults, suggests that Upper Cretaceous seismogenic faulting drove fluid flow through the basement fracture systems. This may have also helped to drive oil migration from the Jurassic source rocks located to the west in the FSB, through the basement ridge and up into the overlying cover sequences. The significance of these findings for fractured basement reservoirs worldwide will be discussed. Acknowledgements: Funding from BP/Clair Joint Venture Group is gratefully acknowledged. The authors would also like to thank Simon Richardson and Catherine Witt for their support. [caption id="attachment_3285" align="alignright" width="813"]

Fracture systems and mineralization styles associated with oil charge in fractured basement and well-cemented cover sequences along the Rona ridge. a) Carbonate-quartz vein with central oil-filled vug; b) shear fracture and fault breccias, with fine sediment slurry injections (purple-red above) and possible silica gel along shear (orange layer); c) typical shear-tensile fracture mesh with oil-filled vugs; d) quartz-cemented cockade textures in fracture fill microbreccia; e) oil-stained, sediment-filled fractures in Lower Clair Group; f) graded laminated sediment, geopetal fill (quartz-cabonate-pyrite) and oil-filled vug in fractured basement – note that the younging from the grading and the geopetal structure are consistent.[/caption]

Wednesday 7 March, 7.30pm Prof Lorna Dawson, James Hutton Institute

Soil in criminal investigations: investigation and evaluation in current and cold cases

Forensic soil science is an increasingly important discipline involving soils, minerals, dusts, plants and rock fragments to determine provenance i.e. to provide a chronology of their ownership, custody or location and as a comparison with a crime scene. Soil materials have been used as forensic trace evidence from early Roman times, and are often highly distinctive from one region to another [1]. Such traces are extremely useful in a forensic context, because of their environmental specificity; their high levels of transferability; their ability to persist on items such as clothing, footwear, tools and vehicles; and their high levels of preservation after long periods of time. This resilience makes soil trace materials, often present at crime scenes and on forensic exhibits, highly valuable forms of intelligence and evidence that can aid crime investigations and scenario reconstructions. Significant advances in forensic geoscience over the past decade, in the development of analytical approaches, miniaturisation and also in understanding the behaviour, transfer, persistence and preservation of sediments, soils and plant material have widened their applicability and evidential value. Evidence samples can be analysed using a wide range of complementary methods that address their physical, chemical and biological components with greater precision, speed and accuracy than ever before. This now permits samples of less than 10 milligrams to be accurately characterised, and permits forensic soil science to also contribute to cold case investigations, both in providing intelligence and evidence in court. Examples will be presented of case work where soil has played a pivotal role.

Sediments/soil on footwear and vehicles can indicate where a crime may have taken place, and may provide evidence of a person being at a particular place of interest. Improved analytical capabilities, coupled with the development and availability of relevant databases, allow forensic geoscientists to help police to search for unknown objects or people, prioritise areas for investigation or search, and provide robust and reliable evidence in court. Forensic geoscience has mainly been used in the past in the context of high-impact crimes such as murder, rape, aggravated burglary and terrorism investigations, where resources allow it. However, techniques are becoming cheaper and faster, and have the potential to become regularly used. With developments in analytical technology, and an increasing understanding of how soils and sediments are distributed within natural and anthropogenic environments, forensic soil science has more power to answer questions such as: “Where did the soil material come from?’, or “Where has this item been?”. Understanding the context of a specific case is crucial to help answer such questions. In addition, being able to explain the significance of the evidence that has been analysed, and demonstrating logically and transparently how a conclusion has been reached, remains important for forensic soil science specifically and trace evidence generally.

[1] Dawson, L.A., Mayes, R.W., 2015. Criminal and Environmental Soil Forensics. In: Murphy, B.L., Morrison, R.D. (Eds.), Introduction to Environmental Forensics, pp. 457–486.

Professor Lorna Dawson, BSc (Hons) (Geography, Edinburgh University), PhD (Soil Science, Aberdeen University), is head of Forensic Soil Science at the James Hutton Institute, visiting professor of Forensic Science at Robert Gordon University, a Chartered Scientist, a Fellow of the Institute of British Soil Scientists, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. She is a registered expert with the National Crime Agency, works with police forces and agencies across the UK and overseas soil trace evidence provision in search and evidence and has written over 100 forensic reports.

She holds diplomas in civil and criminal law (Cardiff University, 2011, 2012 and a Masterclass in Expert Witness Report writing, 2017) and regularly attends court as an expert witness. She sits on the British Association of Science General Committee, holds a diploma in Science Communication from Bristol University (2010) and is the Knowledge Exchange Lead for Environment for the Scottish Government SEFARI Gateway. She is treasurer of the IUGS-IFG (International Union of Geological Sciences-Initiative on Forensic Geology) and regularly takes part in training police and forensic practitioners world wide. She is an advisor to the CBRN-GIFT (Generic Integrated Forensic Toolbox to investigate Chemical, Biological, RadioNuclear incidents), and is a member of the ASPT (Animals, Soil, Plant Trace) working group of two the ENFSI (European Network of Forensic Science Institutes). Lorna is a member of the European COST action 16101 Multi Forensee, representing multi spectral imaging of soil for forensic use. She has acted as an expert on many high profile cases such as the search for Ben Needham, Pamela Jackson, Moira Anderson and has given evidence in many cases including R v Blakey, R v Halliwell, WA v Rayney, HMA v Pacteau, and HMA v Sinclair.

Wednesday 21 March, 7.30pm Dr Brian Baptie, BGS Scotland

Is earthquake activity increasing?

Destructive earthquakes often lead to speculation that earthquake activity is increasing. But is there really any hard evidence to support this? I will draw on earthquake statistics and geophysics to discuss this question with notable examples of how earthquake activity rates can change.

Brian Baptie is head of the Earthquake Seismology team at BGS in Edinburgh, and is often to be heard in the media in response to major earthquakes world-wide.