Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Glacier Monitoring at the Royal Society Summer Science Festival

Earlier this month BGS staff were involved in the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition.  This year we featured our observation system and associated research on the Virkisj√∂kull glacier. With partners in Iceland and the UK BGS have been monitoring this glacier for several years. We are studying the glacier to better understand the rate of change occurring in glacier environments, which can largely be attributed to changes in our current climate conditions. The glacier observatory is monitoring how quickly the glacier is melting on a measurable scale to help predict the likely changes in glacier environments.

High resolution surveys are completed annually and the observatory uses a combination of unique measurements to accurately measure the changes in the glacier. Seismometers are used to capture ‘icequakes’, GPS units to measure ice flow and melting, stream sensors to measure outflow of meltwater at the surface, and boreholes to measure glacially-sourced groundwater flow.  

Our Ice in the Greenhouse stand at the RSSSE
Our staff Jez Everest, Brighid O Dochataigh, Tom Bradwell, Leanne Hughes, Alan McDonald, Lee Jones, Lauren Noakes, Paul Wilson, Paul Witney, John Stevenson, Gemma Nash and Sarah Nice did an outstanding job in explaining our research to the numerous visitors to the Royal Society exhibition. I would also like to thank Verity Flett our joint PhD student from Dundee University, Andrew Black a senior researcher at Dundee University and Sam Illingworth a NERC PhD student from Manchester University for giving up their time to come and help during the week.

Photos from the week can be found here.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

An authoritative statement on shale gas

Last month BGS, working with DECC, released the estimates of the shale gas resource in Northern England. This estimate is based on a thorough compilation of all that we know about the subsurface geology of the region. It incorporates geological, geophysical data, thermal models and estimates of the total organic content of the rocks. It shows that there is a large potential resource of gas in the region, although the true reserve value will depend on how much gas can be extracted from the rocks. This is the concept of resource vs reserve which BGS explains on its shale gas web pages.

There are also environmental effects of extracting the gas and these must be considered before extraction and monitored closely during the process. In general, these can be minimised through tight regulation and good engineering practices within the companies.

There has been a palpable shift in media coverage following the announcement. The fact that BGS, an independent and trusted body, has confirmed the high estimates previously touted by some companies, has meant that the public may be beginning to see the economic arguments for such an industry, in particular in areas where the extractive industry has driven the economy in the past. There is still uncertainty over some of the environmental effects of extraction, and BGS will continue to develop research in these areas..

Authoritative statements are backed up by reliable data and good scientific arguments; the results announced have already challenged paradigms on shale gas in the UK. Nonetheless, BGS will be required to undertake continued evaluation and research experiments on shale gas in the UK as the industry develops. In 10 years’ time we must be able to look back and identify key benchmark results that BGS has produced for the industry and the public - we have the first results and have gained a lot of credit for the careful work and we must now see a continued flow of credible science outputs.

Well done to BGS and DECC staff.