Edinburgh University has launched a campaign to to save Charles Lyell’s notebooks, which record in remarkable detail the life, travels, thoughts and ideas of this significant historical geologist. The Society has pledged a donation towards the purchase of the 294 notebooks, which are currently in private hands and were due to be sold abroad. Thanks to the level of support already offered, the bar on the export of the notebooks has been extended until 15 October 2019. This is now the final deadline to save Lyell’s notebooks. The price has been set at £966,000 and the University of Edinburgh is making good progress in raising the funds required. If you would like to donate, or find out more about the notebooks and plans to make them fully and freely accessible for the first time, visit www.ed.ac.uk/giving/save-lyell-notebooks, or come along to David McClay’s lecture on 16 October.
This informal, outdoor workshop will explore techniques for taking geological photographs. It will be led by Jason Gilchrist from Edinburgh Napier University. No previous experience (in photography or geology) is required, just turn up with any camera. We will take a short walk experimenting with taking photographs at different scales – landscapes, outcrop and close-up details. Participants will be encouraged to submit their photos for future newsletters and the EGS website. If there is enough interest we will arrange a follow-on indoor workshop in the autumn.
Sunday 8 September 2019, 10am – 1pm
Meet outside Dynamic Earth, bring a camera, good footwear and warm waterproof clothing
Booking essential – contact Alison Tymon (how to book).
The Scottish Mineral & Lapidary Club has revived and fostered the craft of the lapidary – the engraving, cutting, or polishing of stones and gems; with the objective to encourage an interest in natural minerals and in the crafts and craftsmanship that relates to them.
From Friday 19 – Monday 22 July 2019, the club will put up a display of lapidary work and minerals / materials related to Space, Earth’s Crust, and the Destination Moon at the event in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing at Dynamic Earth.
The Scottish Mineral & Lapidary Club is situated in Leith, and a lot more of information about its work can be found on the club’s website.
A plaque has been unveiled to commemorate the life and works of the eminent geologist Charles Lapworth LL.D., F.R.S. (1842-1920) at the old Episcopal School in Galashiels. The listed building now housing Border Council’s offices was originally the school where Lapworth was headmaster between 1864-75. He moved to the Borders to teach from his original home in Berkshire. He married Janet Sanderson in 1869 and had four children, three of whom were born in the school house.
The unveiling on 20th May 2019 was done by children of the local St Peter’s Primary school in Galashiels. The efforts to erect the plaque were made by retired local residents and geology enthusiasts, Malcolm Lindsay and David Adamson.
Lapworth is a name which is long associated with Southern Uplands of Scotland. He did his initial research while living locally, but it was not until he moved to Madras College, in St Andrews in 1875 to continue his teaching career that he began to publish his defining work on the distribution of extinct organisms called graptolites. In 1879, he suggested the name “Ordovician” to describe the period between the Cambrian and Silurian ages, a name which was duly accepted across the world. Sir Edward Bailey, the Director of the British Geological Society and Professor of Geology at Glasgow University, later described Lapworth’s interpretation as “one of the miracles of science” and later said that “Lapworth grew up to be, perhaps, the greatest geologist who ever lived”. This plaque is therefore a fitting commemoration to the important time spent by Lapworth both teaching and researching in the Borders.
The History of Geology Group (HOGG) of the Geological Society of London and the Edinburgh Geological Society are organising an open meeting, Aspects of the History of Geology in Scotland and the North of England, at Surgeons’ Hall, Nicolson Street, Edinburgh. This meeting will include a programme of talks, several of them given by EGS members, on Thursday 11 July, followed by optional field visits on Friday 12 July.
Friday’s field visits will feature a morning stroll in the Old Town, and an afternoon stroll in the New Town, each two hours long and visiting sites of interest to historians of geology, with the spotlight on James Hutton.
Visit the HOGG website at https://historyofgeologygroup.co.uk/scotland for further details. Booking in advance is essential, payment can be made by PayPal. The conference fee of £40 includes lunch, morning and afternoon refreshments, and an abstracts booklet. The meeting is open to all, you don’t need to be a member of HOGG or EGS to attend.
The EGS has been contacted by the Lochaber Geopark about a crowd-funding initiative – as a not-for-profit charitable organisation, run mostly by volunteers, Lochaber Geopark needs your support to help continue our work and be self-sustaining. Many of us will have enjoyed the wonderful geology of this area and may like to support the worth efforts of the Lochaber Geopark to keep promoting it to a wider audience. If you would like to support them, then please follow the link provided below.
You might even want to book a geo-tour with this summer – there are various options from half-day to multi-day tours. Check it out here – lochabergeopark.org.uk/product-category/geotours/
As usual, exhibitors and Dynamic Earth managed to create an event that seemed like being aimed at children, but fascinated the adults just as much, encouraging everyone to touch, feel, laugh – and create their own earthquake catastrophe, should they so wish….
Visitors, especially of the childlike persuasion, enjoyed the warm welcome by a friendly pet dinosaur, carefully carried by a volunteer animal keeper.
It is one thing to hear and read about rocks, but touching them, seeing, feeling – and, if possible, smelling the difference is so much better!
The BGS rock samples found many fans.
Another extensively used item was the simulation of landscapes and their influence on water flow and water levels. Children (and adventurous adults) could shape a landscape in the sand; depending on the height of ‘hills’ and ‘valleys’ light simulated the water flow after a rainfall, or its changes after a landslide.
An interesting use of modern technology was demonstrated by the QuiverVision app: visitors could choose a template, colour it in, and the app ‘animated’ it – watching one’s self-created volcano erupt is oddly satisfying, not just for children (we can assure from personal experience…).
The website offers a wide variety of templates for downloading.
Of course, some had their own ideas of what they wanted to get their hands on. And truth be told, who wouldn’t want to cuddle the pet dinosaur?
Downloadable templates for dinosaur hand puppets can be found on the BGS website.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the earthquake-simulation-table was equipped not only with imposing, but also with some of the most important buildings of Scotland.
Additional to the fun of watching your self-created earthquake, experts from the BGS explained not only the works of a seismometer, but also presented real-life-earthquake data and gave an overview of earthquakes in Britain (more than one would anticipate, but mercifully weak).
Very good information material about earthquakes, but also on volcanoes and plate tectonics, can be found on the BGS website.
As a sister project to the Glasgow Geothermal Energy Research Field Site the United Downs Deep Geothermal Power project was presented by Iain Stewart, Professor of Geoscience Communication at the University of Plymouth.
Professor Stewart discussing with what we hope will be one of our future geologists.
Dealing with questions and (mis-)conceptions about the effects of boreholes and geothermal projects underground, he asked the visitors what ideas they had about ‘earthquakes’, and invited them also to draw what in their opinion was to be found in the earth beneath Glasgow….
Once more it was demonstrated that science doesn’t have to be ‘watered down’ to be fascinating for people of all ages, just presented in appropriate (and entertaining) ways, by people whose love for science is rivalled only by their creativity.
A thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable experience.
…at the end of the day, some had a bit of bad luck…
Our thanks go to all exhibitors, volunteers, and enthusiastic young scientists.
Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.
On the 6th of February, a joint lecture of the Mining Institute of Scotland (MIS) and the Edinburgh Geological Society (EGS) was held at the Grant Institute of Geology , University of Edinburgh.
Dr Hugh Barron of the British Geological Survey (BGS, Scotland) gave us an overview of the Glasgow Geothermal Energy Research Field Site GGERFS, a research facility run by BGS Scotland and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), who also carry part of the funding.
Why geothermal energy?
Currently, only about 20% of Scotland’s total energy consumption is covered by renewable energies. It doesn’t sound impressive – and certainly we hope to do better in the future – still, compared with the rest of the UK, Scotland is remarkably successful in its implementation of renewable energies. And while our heat energy consumption is on average 3% higher than in the other parts of Britain (information accompanied by sympathetic laughter from the audience), compared with 2006 it has been reduced by impressive 30%.
New technologies may extend our exploitation of fossil fuels but they remain a finite resource. And considering the current rate of Global Warming it is even more important to find ways of generating energy which are low in CO2 and / or CH4 emissions. Geothermal energy clearly offers an interesting alternative.
Geothermal energy – for most people this conjures images of Iceland, where active volcanism provides subterranean heat, and hot springs are used in ingenious and spectacular ways. How could Scotland compare? For while our geology speaks of a rich volcanic past, by now our volcanoes are all extinct; eroded remnants of former explosive power.
However, geothermal energy is not just a question of how hot, but also of how much – relatively small differences in temperature over a large body of water still contain huge amounts of energy.
The tricky part is to extract this energy – and to make it widely available. As of now, it’s neither commercially nor technologically feasible to install a geothermal system for a single household property. For the most part, facilities are installed in large edifices or building complexes.
Projects of this kind do exist: the town of Heerlen (Netherlands) has been running a minewater scheme since 2008. In Scotland, facilities were installed in Shettleston (Glasgow), and in Lumphinans (Fife). These two projects had to be stopped in the meantime, due to problems with clogging (Shettleston) and a lack of qualified personnel for maintenance (Lumphinans).
This shows why it is so important to run a research program to find solutions for those technical problems, and to create the base for reliable and easy to run systems.
An image from the public exhibition in Dalmarnock, Glasgow (September 2015), which presented the plans for the geothermal energy research field site. Staff from the BGS explained the research and answered the visitors’ questions:
Between the Highland Boundary Fault in the North and the Southern Uplands Fault in the South, we find five large coal mining areas:
- The Fife Coalfield
- The Central Coalfield
- The Lothians Coalfield (which crosses the Southern Uplands Fault in an eastwards direction)
- The Douglas Coalfield
- The Ayrshire Coalfield
Thousands of miners worked for centuries to extract the coal. What better way to honour their hard and dangerous work, than by re-using their constructions to improve our lives, protect our environment, and increase our knowledge?
To use old coal mines offers a couple of advantages. The mines reach down to a depth of ~ 900 m, the shafts allow easy access to warm water with a maximum temperature of ca. 37° C. Records of these mines are still held by the BGS, and can offer information about promising future sites.
An interesting 3D view of the faulted and folded coal seams under the East End of Glasgow is provided by the Scottish Government:
The research is realised via the UK Geoenergy Observatories Project.
The project was commissioned by NERC, while BGS will carry out the research infrastructure and operate the facilities.
Two research sites have been created, with the aim to
- Independently monitor underground energy technologies
- Gather scientific evidence on new and established energy and storage technology to increase efficiency and sustainability
- Gain a world-class understanding that could support management and regulation
- Develop new, exportable technologies
The project’s timeline is set for 15 years, the duration of its last stage as a research facility will depend on the interest shown by the academic community.
There are many benefits to be gained from a dedicated research site.
First, as fracking has shown, we need to learn in advance what impact energy extraction might have on geology and environment. All the more, since effects cannot be directly observed, and intervention deep in the bedrock would be difficult or even impossible.
The people living close to these sites have a right to know what effects any project could have on their lives. As long as this information cannot be provided, the new technology isn’t likely to be accepted.
Secondly, this is an opportunity for gathering academics working in different fields. As astronomical missions are shared by many research teams, this could become a site where scientists can co-work in a professional environment, and share information across the borders of research interest or nationality.
Finally, besides technology, these days it’s mainly expertise that becomes a commodity. And more than money can be gained: to share knowledge is also an important way to connect people all over the world. Also, it’s in our own interest to help other countries to reduce their CO2 emissions, as the effects of Global Warming caused in one country won’t stop at the borders of the next.
The site itself is situated in the Cuningar Woodland Park, a community park which successfully managed to encourage usage by the local community. Its quite charming welcome sign at the entrance, a quote from Dr Seuss
“Welcome…’If you never did you should.
These things are fun and fun is good.'”
could apply to geology, as well as to all other sciences.
Soil and bedrock at the site are a mixture of both natural and man-made formations.
Not all planned boreholes could be installed. The ‘surviving’ two include a weather station, gas probes, sensors for CO2 and CH4, and an active satellite based inSAR ground motion sensor. Seismometers are included as well ( in fact, they had been installed just the day before the talk). They are part of the UK seismic monitoring network.
The data acquisition in total includes environmental monitoring, soil chemistry, hydro-geochemistry, noise, and ecology.
The project is not meant to produce enough heat to cover all its costs, rather it is planned to finance itself through its use as a research site.
This research might include measuring the impact of the geothermal technology on the local environment, new technology, and even defining a base for legal and regulatory framework (as of now, there is no regulatory regime for geothermal technology in Scotland or the UK). In order to turn geothermal energy and heat into a profitable as well as beneficial industry, the extent of all related costs has to be established.
Research topics envisaged so far:
- Faulting and subsurface flow partitioning
- Chemical and heat tracer tests
- Flow rates and sustainability of heat yields
- Thermal breakthrough
- Subsurface to surface impacts
- Strategies to minimise clogging
- New technologies
An online data portal to make the results available for scientists and engineers world wide is planned.
The lecture offered an interesting view on a so far little-explored way of creating energy in Scotland. This project combines modern technology with the past – the constructions as well as the documentation held by the BGS – to add another piece to the mosaic of modern, decentralised energy production. The knowledge gained here can help to facilitate the use of geothermal energy even on a modest scale. The smaller and simpler the technology, the wider the possible application world wide.
Thanks & Acknowledgement
Gratitude is owed to Dr Barron for holding this lecture. He gave a clear overview of the project, its background, goals, challenges and future. He also kindly answered many follow-up questions at the traditional after-talk-tea at the Cockburn Geological Museum.
Contact Dr. Barron
British Geological Survey
Grant Institute of Geology
University of Edinburgh
Glasgow Geothermal Energy Research Field Site GGERFS
Potential for deep geothermal energy in Scotland: study volume 2
Open Government Licence for public sector information
Deep Time Walk at the Science Festival April 2019
Once more the Edinburgh Geological Society contributed to the annual Science Festival with an unique event in association with the team behind the award-winning Deep Time Walk mobile app.
Over the course of five Deep Time Walks, 76 participants from all over the world, professionals and non-professionals alike, travelled across Earth’s 4.6 billion year timeline at a rate of 500,000 years per step. They were led through time and space (i.e. Holyrood Park) by tour guides Angus & Rob.
The walk covered significant events in geological and biological history.
Starting with the stellar explosion creating the cloud of material Earth and we are made from; the ‘Big Splash’ impact that led to the formation of the Moon; the Hadean and Archaean eons; LUCA, the ‘Last Universal Common Ancestor’; the beginning of plate tectonics; and the first single-celled organisms.
The evolution of photosynthesis and its spreading via horizontal gene transfer was perfectly re-enacted by Rob and Angus, a promising comedy-double-act.
“Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking.”
The next big step was the creation of the first eukaryotic cells through symbiogenesis, the “catch and implementation” of other prokaryotes which now make the organelles of the cell. (The above quote is from scientist Lynn Margulis who had a great part in developing the theory.)
For about a billion years not much more happened, which is why this period was also dubbed the “Boring Billion”. And then another form of symbiosis took place…
…Lichen, the cooperation between algae and fungus. Presented with the help of Alan AtKisson’s wonderful “The Strangely Popular Lichen Song”.
And so it went on: the first use of calcium for teeth and shells, the development of eyes, the 5-digit limb, dinosaurs, end of dinosaurs, the opening of the Atlantic, and the 1-2 million human beings – not even half of Scotland’s current population – living on Earth just 10,000 years ago; until the walk reached Dynamic Earth again.
It was a fascinating and enlightening experience. To ‘walk the walk’ not only makes the enormous length of time since the creation of the Earth at least a little bit more understandable, it also gave the participants time (!) to appreciate those events which contributed to us and all other life being here today.
It’s possible to create this experience for yourself with the help of the Deep Time Walk app, which you can download for £ 2.99 at deeptimewalk.org.
For all visits to Holyrood Park, please be aware that the Radical Road is still closed due to safety concerns after a rockfall.
Buy the Deep Time Cards direct from EGS – a set of 58 beautifully illustrated cards, giving 4.6 billion years of Earth history in a tactile, easy to use format. Each card provides a 100-million-year summary of the key transitions that have occurred across Earth’s deep history, with associated reference data and inspiring quotes.
On March 6th Frank Rennie, Professor of Professional Rural Development at Lews Castle College, UHI, gave a fascinating lecture and comprehensive introductory tour of the geology of the Isle of Lewis.
The geology of the Lewisian gneisses is complicated, but is so much more than simply boring monotypic banded rocks, and this lecture highlighted features to look out for in the landscape.
Despite being a long-time member of the Edinburgh Geological Society, Prof. Rennie had never made it to one of our lectures so far. It was our pleasure finally to welcome him, even if it took him to be the presenter himself in order to make it here…
Right at the start we’d like to invite our readers to have a look at the slides Professor Rennie provided for this talk and kindly shared online:
Events at the Roots of the World
“Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day.” 
If there are such ‘nameless things’, and if they have been down at the roots of the mountains since the beginning of time, at about 3.2 billion years ago they would have witnessed (and likely munched on) the earliest forms of what we now know as Lewisian gneisses.
These rocks formed in the root zone of a gigantic mountain range. What we see today are the worn-down roots of a once-mighty mountain belt. This is the end state of mountain building which, millions of years in the future, even the young Alps and the middle-aged Appalachians will approach.
The rocks formed 35 – 40 km deep in the crust in a highly metamorphic environment, at temperatures of ~ 900° C and a pressure of ~10 kbar. At the time of their formation, the rocks were buried in the Earth’s crust positioned at the South Pole.
But while their formation started at 3.2 billion years ago, the gneisses as a whole spanned a period of roughly 1.5 billion years, a detail often overlooked when the immense age of these rocks is mentioned.
In order to make this inconceivable time span more tangible, Professor Rennie used one year to represent the whole of Deep Time. In this comparison the Outer Hebrides formed between February and June, while the Lewisian gneisses appeared around May. Fortunately, we can be quite sure that no creature had them for elevenses, for on this time-scale even the first fish appeared only in November.
Lewisian Gneiss and Where to Find Them
Three types of Lewisian gneisses can be found: metasediments, granitic gneisses and undifferentiated gneiss which cannot be placed in either category, and is often referred to as ‘banded’ or ‘grey’ gneiss. This latter is a highly dense rock that doesn’t break or weather easily. The thin section (see presentation) shows crystals elongated by pressure on the matrix. Other tension-related phenomena, for example boudins, or pods, occur as well.
The gneiss may be the rock on which Lewis rests for the most part, but most of it is hidden under grass, peat and other surface covers. Outcrops are mostly found along rivers or at the coast.
At Ness, a flaggy and fractured metasedimentary assemblage can be seen, while at Scourie a dyke shows in the form of its absence – the intrusion building the dyke weathered easier than the grey gneiss, which is much less susceptible to erosion. In Dail Beag Precambrian granites cut through the gneiss.
The landscape of the Outer Hebrides both directed and was shaped by ice flow during the last Ice Age. Signs of this can be seen in Sough Galson or in the interesting raised beach over glacial till at Habost.
No More Mr Gneiss Guy
The geology of Lewis and its gneisses is much more complicated than many are aware of or care to learn about. On the other hand, there is demand for education – local people as well as visitors show their interest. Professor Rennie told of rocks brought to him for identification, and requests to lead geology tours around Lewis.
Maybe, with the help of the geological institutions in Scotland and the new Scottish Geology Trust, geological ‘wildlife safaris’ and / or rock identification events similar to those held for mushrooms (albeit with a less dangerous background) could be organised in the future.
It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different rock then…
Many are aware that Lewisian geology is more akin to that of Greenland than mainland Scotland. The question, however, why the Atlantic opened to the West of Lewis, instead of separating it from Scotland and keeping it nice and tidy with Greenland, could not be answered. This is a conundrum for future geologists to research and resolve.
Our heartfelt thanks go to Professor Rennie for investing time and effort in both this highly interesting lecture and his long-awaited visit to Edinburgh.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, “The White Rider”
The Edinburgh Geological Society
The Edinburgh Geological Society is one of the UK’s foremost geological societies, whose aim is to promote public interest in geology and the advancement of geological knowledge. We are a friendly and informal organisation with a wide range of members of varied backgrounds and interests.
Charity registered in Scotland
No. SC 008011
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