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Bruce Yardley appointed Chief Geologist

Bruce Yardley (Leeds University) has been appointed Chief Geologist by The Radioactive Waste Management Directorate (RWMD) of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Chartership news

Chartership Officer Bill Gaskarth reports on a projected new logo for use by CGeols, advice on applications and company training schemes

Climate Change Statement Addendum

The Society has published an addendum to 'Climate Change: Evidence from the Geological Record' (November 2010) taking account of new research

Cracking up in Lincolnshire

Oliver Pritchard, Stephen Hallett, and Timothy Farewell consider the role of soil science in maintaining the British 'evolved road'

Critical metals

Kathryn Goodenough* on a Society-sponsored hunt for the rare metals that underpin new technologies

Déja vu all over again

As Nina Morgan Discovers, the debate over HS2 is nothing new...

Done proud

Ted Nield hails the new refurbished Council Room as evidence that the Society is growing up

Earth Science Week 2014

Fellows - renew, vote for Council, and volunteer for Earth Science Week 2014!  Also - who is honoured in the Society's Awards and Medals 2014.

Fookes celebrated

Peter Fookes (Imperial College, London) celebrated at Society event in honour of Engineering Group Working Parties and their reports

Geology - poor relation?

When are University Earth Science departments going to shed their outmoded obsession with maths, physics and chemistry?

Nancy Tupholme

Nancy Tupholme, Librarian of the Society and the Royal Society, has died, reports Wendy Cawthorne.

Power, splendour and high camp

Ted Nield reviews the refurbishment of the Council Room, Burlington House

The Sir Archibald Geikie Archive at Haslemere Educational Museum

You can help the Haslemere Educational Museum to identify subjects in Sir Archibald Geikie's amazing field notebook sketches, writes John Betterton.

Top bananas

Who are the top 100 UK practising scientists?  The Science Council knows...


GEO COVER_DEC11JAN12 for web.jpgThis page has been created to facilitate rapid and timely interchange of opinion. Each month (space permitting) a selection of these letters will be published in Geoscientist Online , the colour monthly magazine of the Society Fellowship.

Correspondence strings are listed in the order that they are begun, the most recent string at the top. Within each string, letters are listed with the first letter of the string at the top, and subsequent letters below.

This page contains letters from the current year.  The archive of letters from previous years are accessible by clicking the links to the left.

If you wish to express an opinion, please email the Editor. Letters should be as short as possible, preferably c.300 words long or fewer. You may also write to:

Dr Ted Nield, Editor, Geoscientist, c/o The Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG.
  • Please note that letters will be edited for publication. This particularly applies to versions  printed in the magazine.  The Editor reserves the right not to publish letters, at his discretion. Writers should submit their letters electronically to ensure rapid publication. All views expressed below are the responsibility of their authors alone.TN

Egyptian meteorites? 15 April 2014

Received 11 APRIL 2014
Published 15 APRIL 2014
From Mary Harris

Sir, I much enjoyed "Iron from the Sky" in April's Geoscientist but fear the authors may have missed a line for future research.


Selling geology 09 April 2014

Received 09 APRIL 2014
Published 09 APRIL 2014
From Peter Gutteridge

Sir, Having read the discussion on ‘selling’ geology to prospective university students in the last Geoscientist. Can I offer this as an outline sales pitch that other people might want to adapt:

There is no other subject that touches more bang up to date political, economic and social concerns than geology. Want to get a long term view of climate change and how and by how much CO2 varies in the atmosphere? How about energy supplies and natural resources? What about natural resources in the Arctic? Want to have a sensible discussion about shale gas? Concerned about relationships with Islamic countries? The answer to all these questions is ask a geologist. Geology has taken me to a wide range of very rich and very poor countries with every type of political system and I’ve also been to countries now in civil war, being a geologist has shaped my world view.

It is an observational rather than experimental science which makes it appealing to people (like me) who can’t do maths and prefer to think in images and like to construct a narrative from physical clues. But you can still be a geologist even if you can do maths. Geologists get to think at micron to global scale and at scales ranging from minutes to billions of years, very few professions need a such a perspective. You can do geology up a mountain, down a mine, in a quarry, down a microscope, in a laboratory, in a library or on a computer, practically anywhere in fact. You may be the best accountant in the world but, unlike geologists, you will never have the chance of discovering something new to science every day you go to work. And you get to do work outdoors in beautiful countryside and on tropical beaches from time to time.

Field work sells it to us! 09 April 2014

Received 09 APRIL 2014
Published 09 APRIL 2014
From Dan Boatright and Worcester Sixth Form College Geologists

Sir, Having read the article 'Adapt or Die' by Jonathan Paul, one of my AS classes suggested that we should defend the role of fieldwork. As sixth formers, the roaring consensus is fieldwork rocks! We have embraced the cliché and pulled on our waterproofs, jumped into the mud and puddles, and if it is raining sideways, even better! We do not shy away from this 'manual labour' Jonathan seems so desperate to disparage, and Clare from my A2 geology class would like to point out that the 10kg weightlifting exercise she undertook on Penarth beach last February was well worth it - not only did she give her quads a workout, but the giant ripple marks are now pride of place in her bedroom. My AS students, washed out from their Penarth experience this year, are ridiculously enthusiastic about climbing the hills around Martley, Worcestershire, attempting to find trilobites and other exciting marine dwellers. While Jonathan pines for his comfy chair and indoor living, Kyle, another second year, has volunteered to lead our intrepid AS students around the six-mile route.

Every year I take my second years to the Isle of Arran. I cannot deny there were looks of outright hatred aimed at me when I first mention the idea. Their screwed up pieces of paper poised in throwing position leaving me a mere sneeze away from a barrage of paper missiles. But, give my second year students any time to talk about the week-long field school and words such as 'awesome', 'engaging', 'fantastic', and 'life-changing' are bandied around with ease. In fact one student, when asked about his recent trip to Rome, just said 'Good' with an impassive face... compare that to Arran and even the rain, snow and driving wind still has them smiling.

So let us not suggest that all our sixth formers are couch potatoes, nor think that geology is now the domain of computer analysts and let us not suggest that academics and industrialists do not need similar skills. In colleges across the country A level geology includes students with a wide range of skills and abilities. Not all like the fieldwork, but most thrive on it. I have a PhD, work in industry in my spare time and teach. The consensus in this college is simple - no need to evolve or adapt - Jonathan you can keep your books and the comfy sofa, we will all be half way up a mountain measuring strike and dip!

Fieldwork no optional extra 01 April 2014

Received 31 MARCH 2014
Published 01 APRIL 2014
From Roy Gill

Sir, I would like to ask three questions of Jonathan Paul: Does he conduct intimate relations with other humans by remote sensing?   Are his summer holidays spent on virtual reality beaches?  Does he play and enjoy his tennis with a Wii handset?  If he answers 'no' then the real experience wins.

Whether or not fieldwork works as bait, it remains a necessity!  Experience of the real Earth, its past by reading rocks and its present by personally being subjected to its processes, is essential for any thinking geoscientist and is paramount.

If a graduate wants somewhere 'warm and dry' for a career then the local supermarket is but a few steps away.  Geoscientists need to be fit, capable and able to climb mountains, carry loads and be good sailors if they are to truly understand the planet.  They must experience Planet Earth in all its glory.

Of course scientists must keep up to date with technology and industry but getting to grips with reality early on in your career should still be seen as our prime attractor for the most able, lively and creative thinkers leaving school.

Don't give up on basic science for Geology entry 20 March 2014

Received 20 MARCH 2014
Published 20 MARCH 2014
From Ken Vines

Sir, Ben Topley is to be congratulated for his enthusiasm in producing the Soapbox article in the March edition, ‘Geology – poor relation?’, but I can’t say that I agree with his call for the upgrading of status of A-Level geology.

The main problem is that many schools and colleges do not offer A-Level geology, so all university courses have to start at the beginning, making the A-level , if not a waste of time, a time that could be better spent. When I started my geology degree in 1971, I was a mature student with a maths degree and an A-Level in geology, which I acquired while working. At the beginning of the course, those of us with the A-Level were told by one of the lecturers, ‘We shall soon catch you up’, which proved to be only too true.

I left the university with a BSc and a (hard rock) PhD and entered the world of hydrogeology, a subject about which I knew very little. What clinched the job were the maths and computing experience that I had and prospective employers, in general, were more interested in the maths than the geology. In employment, my mathematical background enabled me to reach the technical level of my new colleagues without too much trouble.

When the water authority, where I worked, was privatised (1989), I moved to a polytechnic, soon to be transformed to a university, where I began teaching undergraduates. One of the subjects I taught, not surprisingly, was hydrogeology. In the course, there was a little bit of maths, a little bit of physics, and a little bit of chemistry. Students who had no better scientific background than geology and/or geography always found the course a struggle and I often received complaints that the course was too ‘mathematical’, when the truth was that the level was no higher than the old O-level. Most of my colleagues made the same observation. We found that students with only a C-grade GCSE maths qualification, now the minimum for university entrance, often had little experience of algebra or trigonometry and knew nothing about interpreting straight line graphs. It’s difficult to make much progress in science without these elementary skills.

I retired 10 years ago and one of the great sorrows of my career is the way that the subject has been dumbed down to allow students with a poor background in science an easier life. Some students found that their A-Level notes were adequate for their first-year university exams, which shows the level to which they have been reduced. In my A-Level, there was an element of crystallography. I was presented with crystals and asked to identify the Miller indices of the faces. Now, as far as I am aware, there is no crystallography in modern A-Levels and it’s not even included in many modern degree courses, and that includes the one to which I used to contribute.

When It comes down to it, there is no science without maths, physics, and chemistry, and maths is always going to be the most important. It may be an obsession to concentrate on these subjects, but it’s bang up to date. It’s probably too late for Ben but there is no better way to enter the study of geology than with a solid background of basic science.

More women needed 20 March 2014

Received 20 MARCH 2014
Published 20 MARCH 2014
From John Ludden

Sir, I have decided to boycott the vote for GSL Council members this year, based on the fact that the slate presented is entirely male.  I know that Edmund Nickless the Executive Secretary has worked hard to find women candidates, but the Society must work harder and I believe, if necessary, impose a quota on the slate.

BGS has worked hard on its equity policy and recently participated in the pilot run by the Athena Swan programme for research institutes.  We were assessed as achieving the equivalent of the bronze award.  If this programme continues we will look to work towards silver status in the coming years (

Part of our action plan is to ensure that women are represented in our meeting groups, and when there is an election or a search for applicants every effort is made to ensure that we encourage applications from qualified women candidates.

 GSL does have women on its Council and other committees, and I realise that to ensure more representative committees requires a lot of work.  However I feel that the Society must try harder.

John Ludden is Executive Director, British Geological Survey

Fings ain't wot they used to be at the Dining Club 13 March 2014

Received 12 MARCH 2014
Published 13 MARCH 2014
From Dave Greenwood

Sir, During the Bicentenary celebrations in 2007, I received a batch of documents labelled “Geological Society Club” from the family of the late Professor J F Kirkaldy (1908-1990) (Geoscientist 17.9 p 4).  The papers covered the period from 1924 to 1959 and a hand written note (Fig 1) by E E S Brown (1892-1959) revealed that one of them had originated with A J Bull (1875-1950).  This was a booklet entitled “Centenary List of the Geological Society Club 1824-1924” containing a history of the Club followed by a series of lists including Founders, Treasurers, Secretaries, Long Memberships, Dining Places, and Members.  The booklet had been updated, presumably by Brown since it includes a reference to the death of Bull.

There were two copies of the Rules of the Club, from 1934 (with amendments dated 1949) and 1954, the 1949 amendments having been added as slips of typescript, no doubt reflecting the economic situation of the time.  Both start with the words “The Club shall consist of gentlemen who are Fellows of the Geological Society of London” reflecting a male chauvinism that would certainly not be acceptable nowadays.  They stipulate that the number of Ordinary Members should be limited to 40 (later amended to 45) with three further categories of Honorary, Temporary, and Supernumerary Members.  The number of Honorary Members is not specified but appears to have been limited to 15.  Temporary Membership covered Fellows who were currently serving on Council but were not members of the Club, whilst Supernumerary Membership was for those who were abroad and thus could not fulfil the requirement of dining at least once over a two-year period.

One item had survived from WWII in the form of a handwritten circular from W J Gordon dated May 12th 1943 expressing the wish that the Club should resume its activities if adequate catering arrangements could be made.  Unfortunately this could not be done externally, but Gordon noted that as an alternative “the porter at the Society’s apartments is willing to set out sandwiches, and his wife will make tea and coffee”.  This was to be tried out on an experimental basis at 12.30 pm on the 19th May at not less than 3/6d (17.5p) per head, with sandwiches from Messrs Lyons.  Clearly conditions were far more austere than those described by Nina Morgan during WWI (Geoscientist 23.10 p 24).

The majority of the papers cover the period from 1949, when Brown was elected, to 1959, when he died, and include details of the 2,000th Dinner, Annual Reports and Accounts, and a miscellany of receipts etc.  The 2,000th dinner was held in February 1958 complete with named menu cards (Fig 2), the circular for the event noting that “by the custom of the Club ladies are not invited as guests”.  The price was to be £1 11s 6d per head (£1.575), but the purchase of a set of three decanters, proposed by C E Tilley, and inscribed “G.S.C.  Commemorating the 2000th dinner February 12th 1958”, resulted in members having to pay a further 12/6p (62.5p), something that Brown clearly did because he kept both receipts!

The most interesting items, however, are the Annual Reports.  These have been heavily annotated by Brown and give an insight into the workings of the Club during their “closed sessions” when new members were elected.  Any vacancies for Honorary Membership were filled (largely based on “Buggins’s turn”) and election of Ordinary Members then followed with members first ranking applicants in order of preference.  Voting started with the most preferred candidate and continued until either the current vacancies had been filled or candidates failed to meet two further conditions.  Firstly there had to be at least 15 Ordinary and Honorary Members taking part in the ballot and secondly a minimum number of votes required was set at three-quarters of the number of members present.  The average number elected each year was two. 

Brown clearly took a great interest in this process and his annotations reveal details of how the voting went with some surprising failures, which it would be unfair to name here.  Successful candidates were not always the ones that one would expect from their academic standing and other criteria seem to have been at work.  For example most of the Geologists that played a part in war-time activities were elected as were all nine of the members of the BIOS Mission1 that examined the state of German Academic Geology in 1946.  Brown, Bull and Kirkaldy were of course close friends and one can only wonder what these eminent gentlemen talked about in the privacy of their exclusive club and what secrets were shared.

* Dave Greenwood is a retired Mining Geologist with an interest in the history of Geology.  The documents referred to have been deposited with the Society together with a DVD of scans.


  1. DINES, H. G. et al.  German Academic Geology.  BIOS Final Report No. 948.  Item No. 21.  British Intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee.  London.  iii + 10 pp.

Tarmac? You mean 'hazardous waste' 07 March 2014

Received 06 MARCH 2014
Published 07 MARCH 2014
From John Bullas
Sir, As a jobbing highway engineer, road characteristics researcher and lapsed geologist (who may even have been tutored at one stage by our revered Editor) I must point out to the authors of the feature 'Cracking up in Lincolnshire' that using words like “tarmacadam” in any report to a highway department will produce shudders and shakes.

'Tarmacadam' is a term for a specific grading of granular material bound with...tar. Tar is a coal-tar derivative, packed full of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) - a hazardous waste that is exceptionally difficult to dispose of (and expensive with it).

If you do not know whether a road surface is an asphaltic concrete (not a cement-bound concrete) or a dense bituminous macadam, or indeed a horrid nasty nasty evil tarmacadam, just call it a 'bound layer'.

If you suspect tar, let the highway team know as soon as possible, as a late discovery could have a significant impact on the road building process: a quick test with a PAKMarker pen or spray with rule it out (hopefully).

There still is a lot of tar bound up in old roads but it is not ubiquitous, so “bound layer” and a photo or “asphaltic layer” or “bituminous layer” and the same all float my boat. Yes I know asphalt sits in lakes and caught mammoth and sabre-toothed tigers, and that bitumen is oil derived, but we won’t get picky!

Tar but no tar, thanks!

Railway Mania 05 March 2014

Received 04 FEBRUARY 2014
Published 05 MARCH 2014
From Ian Harrison
Sir, Nina Morgan’s piece in March’s Geoscientist only serves to accentuate the care that must be taken in assessing anything concerning Victorian railway building at face value.

The “Oxford and South Stoke Railway” was almost certainly a “spoiling” tactic put together by “narrow gauge” (ie standard gauge in present terminology) interests to disrupt the hegemony of the Great Western Railway west of London.

The fact that George Stephenson was involved makes this a certainty.  The Stephensons (père et fils) had been engaged in a long-running battle with the GWR since about 1835.  There was absolutely no love lost between them and Mr Brunel.  The period 1835–50 is characterised by the “Gauge wars” where the interests of passengers took no place at all in the machinations of the railway builders.

Interestingly, of course, South Stoke is about two miles NW of Goring and I presume that the projected railway would have reached Oxford along the Thames Valley via Wallingford.  The ultimate intention would have been to carry on northwards to join the London and Birmingham railway (built by Robert Stephenson) in the Rugby area.   Passengers and freight would have had to change trains at South Stoke due to the gauge difference.

In fact, of course, the GWR built its own line from Didcot to Oxford (initially to a terminus in Hinksey) in 1844, four years after the London – Bristol main line had opened.

And William Buckland’s involvement?  Just a sop to make the whole affair look vaguely credible.   Most railways at the time were promoted and built by local independent companies and recruited “men of standing” to provide shareholder comfort.   The hope was that a larger concern such as the GWR would buy them out later:  it would have been this “pseudo-chairmanship” that Stephenson was talking about.    Buckland was certainly not in the running to chair the GWR and he probably realised what he’d let himself in for – hence the later use of Stephenson’s letter as a folder.

And PS :   “Rocket” was primarily the brainchild of Robert Stephenson although they did work closely together on her.


Respect for geology A level 05 March 2014

Received 04 FEBRUARY 2014
Published 05 MARCH 2014
From Mark Tyrer
I read with interest Ben Topley's thoughts (Soapbox, Geoscientist v24, 2 page 13) and am reminded of an admissions interview I attended over thirty years ago. I was told that despite an excellent predicted grade in the subject from my college:  "Geology is the last refuge of the innumerate!" a phrase which perhaps still holds a grain of truth. As an undergraduate, I quickly realised that important parts of a degree in Geology are bringing students up to speed in chemistry, physics, biology and maths, in recognition that everyone must be missing at least one of those subjects at 'A' level. Geologists are not alone, as I discovered when teaching an M.Sc. course in geomaterials. At the first coffee break, a graduate civil engineer said to me "I know I should know this, but what exactly is an ion?" I am pleased to report his career has blossomed, despite giving up chemistry at school! I think the key point is that many subjects (Geology, Civil Engineering, Materials Science, Medicine...) are not reliant on studying the subject at 'A' level, but demonstrably fill any knowledge gaps over their period of tuition. I agree with Ben however, that a good 'A' level in Geology is no soft option and firmly believe that inspirational teaching in further education is of the very highest value. To my own FE Geology tutor - I have one word to say if you're reading, Mike - Thankyou.

Radwaste corrections 24 February 2014

Received 23 FEBRUARY 2014
Published 24 FEBRUARY 2014
From Peter Styles

The Editor has made it clear that the recent exchange of views over the identification of possible sites for disposal of radioactive waste in the UK is now closed. It is, I think, well understood that the views expressed in Soapbox article, as with any other article in the magazine unless explicitly stated otherwise, are those of the authors alone, and are not endorsed by the Society. However, some Fellows have expressed concern that simple factual errors may sometimes appear uncorrected in Geoscientist as a result of the editorial freedom extended to authors of Soapbox articles, and that this may be a source of confusion for Fellows and others trying to get to grips with the topic.

In view of this, I would like to take this opportunity as Editor-in-Chief to make the following factual corrections to information presented in the article ‘Fallout over Radioactive Waste’, which appeared in the December 2013/January 2014 issue (Geoscientist 23.11).

The article stated that: “Reports in 1999 by the Royal Society and the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee recommended a national site search, led by geological criteria. However the 2001 Defra white paper Managing Radioactive Waste Safely ignored this advice, proposing 'voluntarism'. CoRWM, the committee set up to develop deep geological disposal for UK intermediate and high-level radwaste, which reported in 2006, contained not a single Earth scientist."

In fact the 2001 Defra White Paper was the launch of a process to decide how government policy on long-term waste management should be developed, following the failure of the previous policy approach based on geological disposal, and it was written partly in response to the 1999 reports. It did not propose geological disposal, by "voluntarism" or any other means, but it did lead to the establishment of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM).

CoRWM was also not set up to develop deep geological disposal. On the contrary; given concern over lack of public confidence in the previous policy approach, its remit was to consider afresh all the possible options for long-term waste management and to "make recommendations for the long-term management of the UK's higher activity wastes that would both protect the public and the environment, and inspire public confidence". Although CoRWM was therefore not charged with a specifically geological task, the Geological Society nonetheless made strong representation concerning the omission of any geological expertise on CoRWM at that time.

The Society organised a meeting in January 2006 on ‘Geosciences and the Long Term Management of Radioactive Wastes’, which brought together global experts in Radwaste Disposal to describe their approach to disposal, which was universally for a deep geological repository, albeit within a range of geological scenarios. This meeting was influential in helping CoRWM with its deliberations. In July 2006, CoRWM recommended geological disposal as the preferred technical solution for higher level wastes, together with a principle of voluntarism and equal partnership between any potential host community and the implementing body throughout the site selection process. These recommendations were adopted as Government policy.

After further public consultation on a framework for site selection, the 2008 White Paper did indeed set out a process based on voluntarism, combined with staged technical assessments. A number of deficiencies in the 2008 process became apparent as a result of engagement with communities in West Cumbria, which had expressed an interest in hosting a geological repository. DECC entered into a new round of consultation on the siting process in 2013, to which the Society has contributed, but geological disposal and the principle of community voluntarism as the basis of policy are not in question. A new White Paper is expected later this year.

Ladies' man 12 February 2014

Received 06 FEBRUARY 2014
Published 12 FEBRUARY 2014
From Hugh Torrens

Sir, The Distant Thunder column 'Ladies' Man (on the supposedly 'private' life of Henry de la Beche) obscures much interesting scandal! The author of the manuscript poem, The Lymiad, was Charlotte Jane Parslow (1785-1872), who married William North Skinner in 1803, and was immediately widowed. Her poem of 1818, mocking social life in Lyme Regis, was addressed to her first cousin, Maria Sarah Wallace (later Ogle) (1791-1844), then living in that other 'den of iniquity', Bath. Charlotte's father was John Parslow (1764-1798), captain in the 3rd, or King's Own, Regiment of Dragoons, who saw much service in Dorset.  He had married a beautiful, and buxom, lass from Tyneside in 1785, who was soon seduced by a cad in the same regiment, Captain Francis William Sykes (1767-1804). Sykes was forced to pay Parslow £10,000 (around half a million today) in damages in 1789, in a scandal which rocked the nation, and filled pages of newsprint, and its libraries with seven different accounts of the trial.

It was this money which allowed Charlotte to holiday in Lyme (where her father had written his will), with a chaperone, in the autumn of 1818, where she met the still unmarried Henry, who later married Letitia Whyte, on 23 November 1818 in Clifton. Charlotte's later footnote comments on that marriage, and on the duck-billed platypus. This relates to the donation of two engravings of this extraordinary animal to our Society on 5 June 1818 (Transactions, 5, p. 639, 1821). 

The Lymiad also records how cousin Maria "knew Madame Trois Maris’s last spouse well". This is Henry's equally scandalous, and beautiful, mother, born Elizabeth Smyth (c.1778-1833), who first became Mrs Thomas De la Beche, then Mrs Henry Metcalfe and finally Mrs William Huddle Aveline. Her second husband was a rich attorney, Henry Metcalfe (1758-1808) of Murton and Seatonville, Tynemouth, where he was born, and had first married, in 1790. But, after this wife’s death, he moved to live in both Bath and Clifton, where he died. He had married "Madame Trois Maris", for both their second marriage, at Clifton in June 1802. Since Maria's father and mother had also been born on Tyneside, these families would indeed have known each other well.

All this

a) confirms Charlotte's authorship and

b) helps shed new light on the sexual, and scientific, goings-on at Lyme in 1818.

At least seven people (six of them female) feature in both The Lymiad, and in the previously rather closed circles which then surrounded Mary Anning junior (1799-1847).