Friday 6 December 2013

BGS in Scotland

There are significant changes ahead for BGS in Scotland. All are positive and underpinned by investments in estates, new NERC sponsored Doctoral training initiatives with Scottish universities and new programmes of research in geohazards, environmental sustainability and resource security.

BGS has about 180 staff based in Scotland. Most are in Murchison house, which is based on the University of Edinburgh’s King’s Building campus. We also have a facility for handling heavy marine drilling infrastructure at Loanhead, Edinburgh.

We intend to relocate all of our Edinburgh activities to the Heriot Watt University (HWU) campus over the next two years. This is an opportunity in that we can regroup and develop synergies in key areas with HWU, notably in the resources sector in partnership with the Institute for Petroleum Engineering, but also with the Marine Sectors and the Institute for the Built Environment. The focus on transformation of research to innovation at HWU through spin-out and spin-in activities and joint ventures with industry is attractive to BGS business development. 

We will relocate all of our staff to the Sir Charles Lyell Centre which will be a state of the art facility incorporating our staff and about 100 HWU staff plus laboratories. We also intend to relocate the marine infrastructure warehouse on the HWU site as part of the research centre.

In all about 25% of BGS activities are based in Scotland and we see the new development in HWU as underpinning this investment. Furthermore, we will enhance collaboration with other Scottish Universities, both in creating joint research programmes and through the NERC Doctoral Training Centres with Edinburgh University, the Centre for Doctoral Training in oil and gas that will be managed by HWU and a consortium IAPETUS headed by DurhamUniversity.

We will build on our geohazards work with the University of Edinburgh and other UK universities and European institutes. For example: we will be doubling the density of  our seismic grid in creating UK-Array with Edinburgh, Bristol and Leicester Universities; we will continue to intensify monitoring volcanic activity in Iceland in partnership with UK HEI; we will enhance our monitoring programme of the Earth’s magnetic field with the University of Edinburgh and the British Antarctic Survey.

BGS also works with Edinburgh and Glasgow universities in managing NERC services and facilities in mass spectrometry at the Scottish Universities Research and Reactor Centre, the Ion Probe and the Geophysical Equipment Pool in Edinburgh. We are founding members of BritGeothermal with Durham and Glasgow universities. We will continue collaboration with Aberdeen, Dundee and St Andrews University in key disciplines and also work with the James Hutton Institute and marine institutes in Scotland.

Despite the disruption in moving facilities and staff, which I understand and which will be managed in an efficient and compassionate way by BGS support staff, the future for BGS science in Scotland is extremely positive and I predict an expansion of our research activities and innovative joint ventures with Scottish universities and companies.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

I think the Mole says it all.......

I presented a number of talks over the past few weeks and many of them involved drawing on BGS work. This allowed me to read over a number of our research outputs and in particular bring myself up to speed with the impressive work in London and the Thames basin.

At the Goldschmidt conference I gave a talk on the Geochemistry of London in a session I organised on Impact of the science. My talk was on a broad subject and in the end it had three parts: atmospheric, calling on the work from the ClearfLo project; soils (London Earth), geology and geochemistry; river water, groundwater and modelling.

My conviction now is that  we have enough data and observing systems in place in London to create an Urban Critical Zone (from tree top/building to bedrock) observatory).

I also talked at the British Cartography Society's 50th anniversary and joined the Chief Executives  of the Ordnance Survey, Hydrographic Office, Defence Geographic Centre etc.  I was struck by how different their approach in pure cartography is to ours, where BGS maps are really to be interpreted as models of the subsurface or the geological environment. My talk, entitled "The geological model for tomorrow's world"  provides some indication of the direction of travel of the science programme that Mike Stephenson and I are developing; I think the mole says it all... can we fit them with nose sensors?

Friday 16 August 2013

A world leading Geological Survey

The Financial Director David Allen of BIS (Business Innovation and Skills government department) visited BGS last week, along with Graeme Reid who is responsible for research in BIS; Graeme knows us well and thought we would be a good centre for David to visit given our commercial focus. The aim was to show how a Research Council works and what our role is in translation of knowledge into useful information for the private sector and the public.

David was extremely interested by all that he discovered. The focus of the science discussion was on subjects such as shale gas, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and nuclear waste disposal, but also on what we do with groundwater and vulnerability to climate change and how we work overseas. He was keen to discover how we work with universities and also with other government agencies. He recognised the important role of BGS as an independent voice on geological matters and asked some probing questions on how we manage to remain independent while also advising industry consortia.

We visited the rock press where David managed to witness a rock failure under pressure and saw what he referred to as the dating lab at NIGL (I think we must have used this expression) ; he understood the importance of both of these facilities in understanding rock behaviour but also in standardisation to underpin geology.

The visit to the National Geological Repository was especially useful as it happened to be full of consultants working on shale gas cores to prepare the next licensing round. They were all "typical geologists" and carrying hammers and lenses (not that I approve of hammering cores), so he did see and observe the stereotype, that I assured him we are changing.

This is from a slide that I presented to David Allen during his visit.

There may be a certain amount of chest banging, but BGS outputs are excellent...

A world-leading Geological Survey

• 516 scientists; working with more than 40 Universities and institutes
• More than 150 current private sector customers
• Around 20 bespoke science laboratories
• 5 NERC and national science facilities 
• The NationalGeoscienceDataBase and Repository
• 93% impact cases in NERC research review recognised as excellent or outstanding 
• Internationally leading or better positions in 78% of research areas
• 75% 4 year increase in peer reviewed papers to 245 in 2012; 
• >150 items of advice to policy makers in the UK, Europe, and overseas in 2012
• > 300 000 web visits a month

In addition we have about 120 staff that support our science in various ways, such as business development, IT, graphics, communications and administration.

Dave Allen was fascinated. BGS represents a mere £26 million of a more than £16 billion budget, but he saw the economic benefit in spades! 

Tuesday 6 August 2013

BGS commended for its ‘outstanding research impact’

The British Geological Survey (BGS), along with other centres in the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), has been assessed to determine the excellence and impact of its research. The review, carried out by the NERC, was similar to the Research Excellence Framework system used to assess the quality of research in Higher Education Institutions (HEI).

BGS is extremely pleased that the committee found that the impact of the research carried out by the BGS is ‘outstanding’. One area of particularly outstanding impact is the use of information technology to transform the usability of its data to create 3Dgeological models and associated modelling technology and digital geoscience information products such as the iGeology app. Other areas of outstanding impact included the BGS National Geological Repository, its internationalactivities and the NERC isotope geoscience laboratory’s (NIGL) work on depleted Uranium.

The review panel considered that that 78% of the BGS’s research was  the equivalent of the REF ‘internationally recognised’ standard, with a significant proportion being at the REF  ‘internationally excellent’ level. NIGL, along with the Climate Change and Quaternary Science and Hydrogeology are to be commended for their performance in the research review.

BGS is one of the top geological surveys of the world and as such has a dual research and service role, I am extremely proud of what we have achieved to date, but we must continue to define the trend that is now observable across many global geological surveys towards greater research excellence through collaboration with HEI, research institutes and Academies.”

Further information and details of the review can be found here:

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.

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Geochemical Baseline Sampling

I have just met with our G-BASE (Geochemical Baseline Survey of the Environment) team before they go off for a 12 weeks sampling campaign. This will be the last concerted sampling effort and then the stream sediment coverage for the United Kingdom will be complete. The process has been on-going for several decades with BGS sampling the whole of the UK which started in Northern Scotland in the late 1960s. 

Much of the work underpins environmental assessment in the UK and also across Europe. Regulation and policy around land utilisation and development requires knowledge of the concentrations of chemical elements in soils – for example for Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead. Geochemists know that these values are variable and depend on the composition of the parent material that the soil came from; for example soils formed on granites are very different from those formed on limestone and policy must take this regional variability into account. At the same time there are natural processes that can concentrate elements such as arsenic in soils and water that may mean that the concentrations exceed what one would recommend as an environmental standard and so the natural background must be known and taken into account. On top of this, the levels of some elements e.g. Lead, Chromium, Mercury etc. may be elevated due to industrial activity.

The final samples will be taken on the Isle of Wight in mid September this year at which point we will have a small workshop and reception and will have a lot of data to bring together to make full UK coverage products.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Denis Peach, BGS chief scientist, thespian and hydrogeologist

Denis Peach has been the British Geological Survey's chief scientist since 2007.  He took on this role that had not been filled for a few years on the BGS executive. My aim was to reinvigorate the science base of BGS and have our scientific staff actively thinking about how research would underpin the Survey to provide better geological solutions.
Denis rapidly realised that we needed to move beyond the surveying and 3D geological models and enhance our capabilities in numerical modelling so that we could provide numerical solutions to geological problems. We embarked on a programme of hiring scientists with a numerical background and linking these staff to our geologists; the latter are very intuitive scientists and have the ability to think in three dimensions. Adding error bars to the geological observations was and still is a significant challenge, which is increasingly important when the public are asking explanations on processes such as carbon capture and storage, nuclear waste containment, and future use of unconventional hydrocarbons.
We need to understand the geological and physical characteristics of top few kilometres of crust  - Denis in the BGS strategy termed this the "Zone of human interaction", which he defined as extending from the surface, where rocks react to form soil through interaction with water, air and the biosphere, down to the depths where resources are extracted.
Denis, leaves BGS next month and has made a significant step in bringing this fundamental shift in BGS science and I believe it will be measured as a major contribution far into the future as BGS continues to solve some pretty important geological problems for the UK.
Denis is a thespian and without a doubt some of his success has been in his “command of the stage” at executive meetings.  A dedicated scientist who has devoted his life to geology. We would often laugh about his penchant for the watery world, but in reality he was very fair in his support of science across the board in BGS.  Denis will continue to be active as a hydrogeologist, which is his primary science expertise, and he will work with BGS and Imperial College. His contributions have gone far beyond that of a chief scientist and he has served on numerous boards and committees for NERC and government.
We all thank him for his contributions and wish him a full and fruitful retirement.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

A change at the top!

I am pleased to welcome Mike Stephenson as Director of Science and Technology in BGS.  He will replace Denis Peach who served as BGS Chief scientist for 6 years; Denis leaves BGS at the end of June this year and I will be preparing a full and revealing blog nearer that time.

Mike will have oversight of a team of Science Directors who will lead BGS science in six broad areas:

Energy, Minerals and Waste.
Directors Bob Gatliff (Energy and Marine Geoscience) and Andrew Bloodworth (Minerals and Waste)
Directors David Kerridge (Earth Hazards and Observatories) and Helen Reeves (Engineering Geology)
Environmental change and impacts.  
Directors Mike Ellis (Climate and Landscape Change) and Rob Ward (Groundwater)
Geological and geophysical survey
Directors Andy Howard (Geology and Regional Geophysics) and Mike Young (GSNI)
Information and environmental modelling.  
Directors Richard Hughes (Geo-information and Systems), Matt Harrison (Geoscience Products and Services) and Kate Royse (Environmental Modelling) 
Laboratory Facilities.  
Randy Parrish ( Director NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory) and Dee Flight ( Head of BGS Laboratories)

Martin Smith will have a role between Business Development and Science Programming as Director of BGS Global Geosciences.

Another change that is being brought in this month is a move from a matrix management model which has been in place for more than 10 years to a system where science directors will have a group of staff assigned to their area and will manage a budget that will allow them to develop their science across BGS.  Interdisciplinary science will be maintained at the team level. This change will be overseen by our Chief Operating Officer Mike Patterson and his team.

I am looking forward to working with Mike and the Science  Directors and their administrative support. The bottom line will be continued delivery of excellent geological sciences for the UK.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Being recognised, a blog from Russia

I was in Russia this week in order to accept my nomination into the Russian Academy of Sciences (you can translate this website to English using the translate tab at the top of the page) . It is very nice to be recognised for my contributions to science and it makes one think about how well we in BGS recognise the contributions of our staff. Simple things like medals and certificates, like the ones I received in Russia mean a lot, even if they may seem unnecessary. 

Me at the entrance to the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences

In BGS we recognise our staff when they leave with their valedictory letters; we also acknowledge 25 years service with a small gift. Of course we have a bonus system, which does not provide enough, but it is a financial remuneration. However, I believe we should be celebrating our success more in recognising staff in winning grants, writing up their results and also those underpinning the science in administration, laboratories and services.

The soon to be launched internal communication portal is a good first step. If you have any feedback and ideas, please feel free to provide feedback to me or to the communications team at

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Visit of The Rt Hon David Willets MP

This afternoon the Rt Hon David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, visited the British Geological Survey to open the National Geological Repository (NGR).

The NGR holds over 500Km of drill core (enough to stretch between London and Edinburgh), cuttings from over 23 000 wells and boreholes, over three million specimens of the UK biostratigraphic (fossil) record, paleontological, rock and mineral collections including: Some of Darwin’s early materials, early material form Antarctic and the National Building Stone collection.  In the BGS library (part of the NGR) we hold 500,000 books and reports, 12 000 journal titles, 75 000 photos, 30 000 items in archive some dating back 500 years (see our website for more detail).

The NGR at the British Geological Surveys Headquarters, near Nottingham.

The NGR was created following the extension of the BGS core store and the relocation of the DECC oil and gas cores from Gilmerton, Edinburgh to the BGS headquarters in Keyworth, Nottinghamshire. The objective has been to recognise the importance of these collections now that the majority of BGS holdings are in one place, where they can be fully exploited in a suite of examination facilities and technical laboratories.

To achieve this, we extended the existing core store by about 100% and installed state of the art mobile racking, we moved the fossil collections into refurbished space and we installed mobile racking to extend the paper records storage by 7.5km.

All of the 300km of offshore cores that were moved from Gilmerton, Edinburgh have been photographed in high resolution and the images have been made freely available on line. Our communications team created a video of the whole process that you can watch below and you can find out more information on our 'A Core Story webpages.

The NGR now contains the largest archive of subsurface information in the UK, incorporating onshore and offshore material from BGS, DECC, the Coal authority and other national collections (see summary list on our website). We have also incorporated the British Antarctic Survey’s (NERC) geological collections as part of the NGR.

In all, these collections allow evaluation of onshore and offshore resources in hydrocarbons, mineral resources, the potential for radioactive waste containment, Carbon Capture and Storage and geothermal energy and underground energy storage, in addition to the basic third dimensional geology of the UK and material from areas across the world where BGS has worked.

The NGR is open to industrial and academic users and for the oil and gas records we have 250 unique groups of industrial users since 2007 (mainly repeat users) and also numerous university users for advanced level teaching.
Typical photograph of a section or core. See here to search the database
The Future for the NGR

BGS is in the process of planning scanning of the onshore cores and remaining records and maps that will underpin shale and coal gas and the renewal of mineral and geothermal exploration in the UK. In addition, BGS plans to release all of its international holdings to encourage economic development in mineral exploration world-wide.  We expect the NGR core store to be full within the next 10 years and a new extension is already being considered.

The collections will be opened to accommodation of critical collections from HEI's as some of these become available and Universities change programmes and professors retire. BGS will create a network in rock physics that will include the key universities in the UK and will link with the foremost institutions in research in subsurface infrastructure research across Europe.

Saturday 12 January 2013

More from Afar......... The 24th Colloquim on African Geology CAG in Addis Ababa

This gathering of geologists to exchange scientific ideas on the geology and related resources in Africa takes place every couple of years. It used to be held in Europe and the concept of this meeting was created in Leeds University in association with their East African Research project 40 years ago. It has grown in size and is a meeting largely of geological agencies and academics, with some interest from the minerals and oil and gas industry and increasingly in areas of sustainability in water, soils and renewable energy.

The BGS has a very prominent role in this meeting and this reflects the diversification of our international portfolio and branching out from our traditional geological mapping role, into developing global data bases and also research in sustainability for groundwater in particular. 

We presented results on geological mapping and geochronology in Tanzania, Ethiopia and the UAE and outlined the need for more integrated research and geological correlation in the Neoproterozoic, a period about 1000 to 500 million years ago when the Earth was undergoing significant changes in its atmospheric and oceanic systems and continental plate configurations that link to the evolution of life on Earth, but also to resource generation.
My Plenary talk at CAG24
In terms of data we are pioneering global projects such as Onegeology in which all geological data is shareable and can be displayed in common portals. Similarly we presented data on  open sourced  software that should allow users to share and improve there data management systems, leading towards simpler construction of archives of data that can be shared in global projects.

EVOSS is aimed at providing volcanic risk related services by integrating real time volcanic data globally and is using African  volcanoes, which are poorly monitored on the ground, as test cases; this is part of a Global Volcano Model (GVM). This part of Africa one of the most volcanically active and one in which BGS with other NERC funded scientists have undertaken one of the most comprehensive studies of active rift volcanism.

The meeting will continue with the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Geological Society of Africa and the next big geological congress in Africa will be the International Geological Congress in 2016.

Ethiopians are very friendly and the country is rapidly developing  and diversifying. They have some excellent geology and some excellent local and internationally trained geologists in the country and it is a pleasure to be in the country again after 12 years.
My view of Addis Ababa (from the hotel)

Thursday 10 January 2013

Looking Afar in Ethiopia

I am in Ethiopia which is organising the Conference on African Geology this year. I enjoy the country and have several students that I have trained who work here in the University of Addis Ababa.  With a group of geologists attending the conference we went on a field trip to the Ethiopian sector of the African rift valley, which terminates in the Afar.

Geological Map of the Afar Rift

Me overlooking the Ethiopian sector of the African Rift Valley
It is at this point that three of Earth's plate boundaries meet in a triple junction and it is the only place on the planet where a triple junction occurs on continental crust and where we can observe the rifting process and the birth of an ocean. This is one of the hottest parts of the planet, both through the climate but also the intense volcanic activity. Nonetheless, there are several million people who live in the area and manage to use irrigation effectively to farm and also are starting to look into sustainable energy systems, geothermal from the volcanic systems and also wind and water.  

It is an extreme place in many ways and one that is most susceptible to climate change, which may on the multi decade scale significantly impact on the inhabitants ability to live in the Ethiopian rift in particular in the triple junction region of Afar.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

BGS in the UAE

BGS completed the second phase of a major mapping contract with the UAE at the end of 2012. This has been a very fruitful collaboration that has led to the production of a complete set of high resolution maps of the UAE. These are all accompanied by reports on deep geophysics, building stones, mineral potential and environmental geology and building subsurface conditions in cities such as, the rapidly expanding, Abu Dhabi. The photo below is of the superb Grand Mosque which was completed 3 years ago and one of the aims would be to provide a source for the sorts of building materials used here.

I visited the Ministry on the 2nd January 2013 and met the project leader Abdullah Abdi, with Khalid Ali Alhosani, Saleh Ahmed Almahmoudi (see photo below) the intention being to recognise the significant work that both sides have put into the project and discuss ongoing science activities that might evolve now that we have completed the basic surveys.  At the same time BGS  is investing in a suite of follow- up research projects in the UAE.

We expect to maintain a strong ongoing collaborative relationship with the UAE ministry and it was excellent to see all of the geological information, maps and other products strongly co-branded by the the project leaders, UAE, BGS, Sander Geophysics and Western Geco.