Product has been added to the basket

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

The golden age of field geology 25 November 2015

Received 25 NOVEMBER 2015
Published 25 NOVEMBER 2015
From Peter B Jones

Sir, After reading the obituary of Desmond Oswald in the Geoscientist, October 2015, I felt that a phrase used by the obituarist: “in the summer, leading field trips to northern Albertaimplied that this was an extracurricular activity unrelated to his professional duties as a senior-level exploration geologist at Chevron Canada. On the contrary, being a field party chief for Chevron Canada was one of his most important functions during the ‘golden age of geological field work’ between 1950 and 2,000, when all the major domestic and international oil companies sent geological parties into the field.

The ‘golden age of field geology’ was a period of intense study of the structure and stratigraphy of the Western Canadian and Arctic sedimentary basins. Some of the most significant contributions to the geology of mountain belts originated as field party chiefs’ reports.  The following describes the activities and lifestyle of a field party during that era.

A field party was headed by an experienced party chief, such as Desmond Oswald for Chevron, and three staff geologists prepared to spend at least three of their summer months living in the wilderness under very primitive conditions. Each company geologist was provided with a student assistant, preferably a senior-year geology student, hired primarily for safety in the field and to carry heavy stuff.

In the early 1950s, a field party lived in tent camps, provided by outfitters whose earlier clients had been big-game hunters and whose supplies depended on scores of packhorses and their handlers (horse wranglers). Each geologist had a tent and student assistants shared tents. The biggest tent was the cook tent, a high-walled tent run by an ancient cook or the outfitter’s wife, who cooked on a rusting, wood-burning, portable steel stove which, during camp moves was entrusted only to the best packhorse. In some regions, rodeos were popular entertainment. In such places, the worst packhorse might be entered in the bucking horse competitions (and even sometimes win).

By the mid-50s, most field parties were equipped with helicopters, mostly two-passenger Bell 47-D-1 and 47-G-2 models like those seen on ‘M*A*S*H*’. This added a pilot and engineer to a field party. The engineer maintained the machine between morning outward-bound and late-afternoon return flights. Generally they fitted in well and participated in the communal routines, putting up tents, washing dishes, digging latrines and hiding the limited beer supply before scheduled visits by alcoholics from head office.

Geological activities fell into two main categories. In foothills terrains, a geologist/student pair would traverse the ridges and wade the creeks to examine the outcrops they encountered between the morning’s drop-off point and a late afternoon’s pickup point, up to 10 miles apart. In mountainous terrains the duo could find themselves landed on a peak in the eastern Rockies or a more northerly mountain range, with directions to describe, measure and sample known and potential source rocks, mostly Palaeozoic carbonates, and picked up at a designated locale lower down the mountain side. For some field-party members, this experience was the pivotal point in life when they realised that that climbing down a mountain, especially with a rucksack filled with rocks, was far more dangerous than climbing up one.

The activities of oil company field parties, reported by field-party chiefs in company reports and eventually published in national and international geological journals, contributed as much as the Geological Survey of Canada to the understanding of the geology of mountain belts in Canada and worldwide. Desmond Oswald, subject of the Geoscientist obituary, was a field party chief for Chevron, and was outstanding in his field. Bob Stoneley performed a similar function for BP. There were dozens of others throughout the petroleum industry. For almost 50 years, geological fieldwork carried out by oil company field parties was an important but generally unrecognised element in petroleum exploration in Western and Arctic Canada.

Peter B Jones

Moral geology must apply to the present too 16 November 2015

Received 16 NOVEMBER 2015
Published 16 NOVEMBER 2015
From David Abbott Jr

Sir, Edward Jones, in his article, Towards a ‘moral geology’, (Geoscientist 25.10, November 2015) opines: “My only solution to this [problem of human-produced CO2 leading to climate change] is that we should not take any more oil out of the ground.”

His solution to the problem is not morally well thought-out. Assume that the World’s Grand Pooh-Bah existed and followed Jones’ solution forthwith. The catastrophic impact on the world’s population from immediately stopping the use of all petroleum-based products would far exceed the more gradual impacts of taking no steps to reduce greenhouse gases and allowing the most direly predicted impacts of global warming to occur.

Moral solutions to global warming must take both present and future impacts on society into account.

David M Abbott Jr.

Garbage in? 04 November 2015

Received 04 NOVEMBER 2015
Published 04 NOVEMBER 2015
From David Slater

Sir, Ragnarsdottir and Sverdrup in their article Limits to Growth revisited (Geoscientist 25.9) have laboured impressively on the available data on mineral and metal availability to provide us with forecasts of impending scarcity. In my view their conclusions are deeply flawed for the same reasons as those of the original Club of Rome report. The information available on resources is largely a function of the past investment in exploration which is itself a function of fluctuating demand, access to territory, favourability of mining legislation and other factors. This is why any current calculation usually results in a conclusion of imminent scarcity. It is also profoundly difficult to take account of technological advances and remedial, or even advantageous, substitution. The manipulation, however complex, of dubious data seldom results in worthwhile answers.

David Slater

Birmingham hydrogeology masters under threat 04 November 2015

Received 04 NOVEMBER 2015
Published 04 NOVEMBER 2015
From John Lloyd

Sir, Your editorial about Water Wars and the article by John Simmons concerning Water and Energy in November's Geoscientist (25.10) draw important attention to the need for comprehensive understanding of the geology as a significant element in the issues raised. The knowledge of groundwater conditions in many aspects of our lives in a coherent developing society tends to be overlooked, or taken for granted.  Obviously, understanding aquifer hydrogeology is essential for groundwater supply realisation not only in temperate countries like the UK, but also particularly in the vast regional sedimentary basins and ‘hard rock’ terrains present in arid parts of the world.  With population increases and greater demands on supply requirements the need for definitive hydrogeological understanding also increases and will continue to do so as aquifers become more stressed with climatic change.

While groundwater supply may be the most obvious hydrogeological activities, in many cases environmental issues dominate requiring in-depth appreciation of complex hydrochemical reactions coupled with an understanding and ability to represent hydraulic controls. Waste disposal is heavily regulated with hydrogeological criteria, which will become paramount in the eventual decisions on UK nuclear waste burial. Understanding construction and mining impacts on groundwater systems frequently prove essential for success in the works involved and we are now seeing suggested constraints on gas fracking as a hydrogeological issue. 

Clearly, while geology is the framework for groundwater the understanding of its functionality is a multi-disciplinary task additionally involving physics, mathematics, chemistry etc., which normally requires an advanced educational base above that of standard BSc studies.  Over the years the UK universities have supported various Hydrogeology MSc Courses essentially integrated with research programmes.  Most have now closed and the closure of the most successful course that at the University of Birmingham, is now mooted.  In a country where skill-shortages are a daily lament in the media, one can only suggest that there seems to be a disconnect between those funding and operating higher education and the requirements of the wider community.

John Lloyd

'Hubbert's Peak' concept not applicable to metals 30 October 2015

Received 30 OCTOBER 2015
Published 30 OCTOBER 2015
From Naden et al

Sir, The article concerning the availability of mineral resources addresses an important global challenge (Limits to Growth Revisited, Geoscientist 25.09, October 2015).  However, we take issue with the methods used by the authors and the validity of many of the underlying assumptions they make in concluding that resources of many metals and minerals will be physically depleted within a timescale of a few decades.

The authors take data and definitions of resources and reserves from the USGS and apply them in a wholly inappropriate manner.  They fail to appreciate that reserves are dynamic economic entities that are neither fixed nor well known for any metal or mineral.  Consequently reserves are not reliable indicators of future availability.  Mineral supplies are determined by the market which has functioned well over many decades.  As demand and prices have risen, so new reserves have been mined and supply has remained secure.  At the same time users have improved resource efficiency and increased substitution and recycling. 

The application of Hubbert’s ‘peak’ concept to metals production is highly contentious  and does not necessarily “work excellently on any non-renewable mined geological reserve,” as the authors claim; “mineral resources [were] broadly considered… to be unlimited” in Turner's1 30th anniversary revisitation of the Limits to Growth.  The authors do not consider the broader literature on this topic 2,3,4 and reference their own work as proof of its validity.  Historical records show that production of metals is closely linked to prices, with intermittent peaks and troughs driven by economic cycles.  Thus declining production is generally driven by falling demand rather than by declining resources, as implied by the authors. 

Mineral resource security is of concern now, and will become an even greater challenge as the global population continues to grow and urbanisation in the developing world accelerates.  We in the economic geology community contend that we will reach environmental limits far sooner than physical limits.  This article distracts from the research and innovation required to sustain mineral supplies from primary and secondary sources, while radically reducing the environmental footprint of our resource consumption.

Yours faithfully

  • Dr Jonathan Naden, NERC British Geological Survey, Chair MDSG
  • Dr Daniel Smith, University of Leicester, Secretary, MDSG
  • Dr Frances Cooper, University of Bristol, MDSG Committee Member
  • Mr Richard Siddle, Independent Geologist, MDSG Committee member
  • Mr Andrew Bloodworth, Minerals & Waste Director, NERC British Geological Survey
  • Mr Gus Gunn, NERC British Geological Survey
  • Professor Richard Herrington, Head of Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum, ex Chair MDSG
  • Dr Gawen Jenkin, University of Leicester, ex Chair MDSG
  • Mr Paul Lusty, NERC British Geological Survey
  • Dr Julian Menuge University College Dublin
  • Professor Stephen Roberts, University of Southampton, ex Chair MDSG
  • Dr Martin Smith, University of Brighton, ex Chair MDSG
  • Professor Frances Wall, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter


  1. Turner G.M.  (2008) A comparison of The Limits to Growth with 30 years of reality.  Global Environmental Change 18, 397-411.
  2. Crowson, P.C.F.  (2011) Mineral reserves and future mineral availability.  Mineral Economics 24, 1-6.
  3. Ericsson, M.  and Soderholm, P.  (2012) Mineral depletion and peak production.  Polinares, Working Paper No 7, September 2010.
  4. Graedel, T.E., Gunn, A.G.  and Espinoza, T.  (2014) Metal resources, use and criticality.  In: Gunn, A.G.  (ed) Critical Metals Handbook.  1-19, Wiley/ AGI.  Chichester.

Here's to mediocrity 21 October 2015

Received 21 OCTOBER 2015
Published 21 OCTOBER 2015
From Chris Garland

Sir, May I warmly applaud Lewis McCaffrey for giving us "grunts" a helping hand with our self-esteem (Soapbox, October 2015).  We are often weighed down by the heavy feet of so-called giants standing on our shoulders and now we are recognised at last for the mediocre but mandatory (for science) majority that we must be. I can now read those glowing obituaries with respect but without shame or envy.  Let us make the most of our mediocrity!

Chris Garland

Mediocrity rules! 14 October 2015

Received 14 OCTOBER 2015
Published 14 OCTOBER 2015
From Steve Dulson

Sir,  How refreshing to read Lewis McCaffrey’s Soapbox piece in praise of mediocrity. Loved it. (And was that Dr Nield I could hear, chuckling to himself across the ether?)*. 

In previous professional incarnations, I have had the pleasure of reading through all kinds of Fantasy CV / Chartership stories and have had to grin and pretend to be impressed with colleagues’ tales of when they became Chartered Geologist, Chartered Scientist AND Chartered Engineer in the space of a month or whatever, like boy scouts trying to collect a set of badges down their arm.

But all this is inevitable in a society (and Society!) of education 'inflation', where everyone is supposed to be award-winning and high-achieving and to come second is considered to be 'first among losers'... 

Steve Dulson

* Yes. Ed.

Infinite time? 12 October 2015

Received 12 OCTOBER 2015
Published 12 OCTOBER 2015
From Ronald Harrison

Sir, Of the many books on Time, from academic to more public-orientated, geological time is briefly mentioned or ignored completely. Many state that 'there is 'no absolute time' but is inextricably linked to the three dimensions of space (spacetime- a coordinate system defining an event in cosmology where and when it happens).

Recent developments in Quantum Mechanics, however identify Time as an independent quantifiable entity. The Geological Timescale is of course based on decades of international stratigraphical research and agreement, and on the vast database of isotopically determined ages of terrestrial and extra-terrestrial minerals and rocks indicating the age of the Earth at >4500 Ma of absolute time. 

The age of the Universe is estimated at > 800,000Ma starting with a 'Big Bang' followed by expansion, high-energy particle reactions, formation of nuclei, atoms, elements, the first galaxies, stars, planets, with further expansion and formation of the Solar System  leading eventually to expansion of the Sun to a red star, and ending in  cold  dark space.

However, Roger Penrose ('Cycles of Time, 2010') models mathematically an infinite succession of aeons, each starting with a 'Big Bang' event following the demise of the previous aeon.  So with the accompanying cyclic formation of nuclei atoms and eventually minerals and rocks, radioactive decay of unstable elements would continue the geological clock and thus Time to infinity.

Ronald K Harrison

Bullard's fit - Van der Voo's polar wandering curves 12 October 2015

Received 09 OCTOBER 2015
Published 12 OCTOBER 2015
From Chris Harrison

Sir, Here is an additional thought following on from 'Bullard's Fit in the August issue of Geoscientist (Palmer, 2015) about the reconstruction of the North Atlantic by Bullard, Everett and Smith (1965). Their fit of Europe with respect to North America was a very tight fit. Other fits have been much looser i.e. they did not require as much movement between the two continents. These fits were by Herron, Dewey and Pitman (1974), Le Pichon et al. (1977), Sclater et al (1977), Srivastava and Tapscott (1986), Savostin et al. (1986), and Rowley and Lottes (1988).

Van der Voo (1990) used paleomagnetic polar wandering paths for the two continents during a time when there was assumed to be no motion between them (Ordovician to Early Jurassic). These paths were very sinuous and resembled each other in their sinuosity. Van der Voo showed that the Bullard et al. fit made the matchup of the two polar wandering paths very close, whereas the other reconstructions showed a gap between the two paths amounting to between 10 and 23.8 degrees of longitude. Van der Voo therefore proved that the tight fit of Bullard et al. was the right fit.

  • Bullard, E. C., Everett, J. E. and Smith, A. G., 1965. ‘A symposium on continental drift, IV, The fit of the continents around the Atlantic’. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. London 258 pp41-51.
  • Herron, E. M., Dewey, J. F. and Pitman, W. C., 1974. ‘Plate tectonic model for the evolution of the Arctic’. Geology 2 pp377-380.
  • Le Pichon, X., Sibuet, J. C. and Francheteau, J., 1977. ‘The fit of the continents around the North Atlantic Ocean’. Tectonophysics 38 pp169-209.
  • Palmer, D., 2015. ‘Bullard’s Fit’. Geoscientist 25 no. 7 pp10-13.
  • Rowley, D. B. and Lottes, A. L., 1988. ‘Plate kinematic reconstructions of the North Atlantic and Arctic’. Tectonophysics 155 pp73-120.
  • Savostin, L. A., Sibuet, J. C., Zonenshain, L. P., Le Pichon, X. and Roulet, M. J., 1986. ‘kinematic evolution of the Tethys Belt from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pamirs since the Triassic’. Geophys. J. Roy. Astron. Soc. 123 pp1-35.
  • Sclater, J. G., Hellinger, S. and Tapscott, C., 1977. ‘The paleobathymetry of the Atlantic Ocean from the Jurassic to present’. J. Geol. 85 pp509-552.
  • Srivastova, S. P. and Tapscott, C., 1986. ‘Plate kinematics of the North Atlantic’, in “the Geology of North America vol M, The Western Atlantic Region” edited by B. E. Tucholke and P. R. Vogt, pp379-404, The Geological Society of America, Boulder Colorado.
  • Van der Voo. R., 1990. ‘ Phanerozoic paleomagnetic poles from Europe and North America and comparisons with continental reconstructiions’. Reviews of Geophysics 28 pp167-206.
Chris Harrison

Professional qualifications vital! 12 October 2015

Received 06 OCTOBER 2015
Published 12 OCTOBER 2015
From Brian King

Sir, In response to Rob Wallace’s letter 'Chartership - what's the use?' in Geoscientist Vol 25 No. 8 September 2015, I would say this.  Most Mining companies particularly in Canada will not employ you as a consultant unless you have such qualifications.

I can only think that Mr Wallace has never had to sign any geological documents of legal or financial significance. The company that I worked for expected and encouraged their geologist to join the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP). One could not sign off Ore Reserves for a listing on the Stock Exchange without being a member.

Subsequent to the Bre-X fraud, many stock exchanges tightened up their signatory requirements for many geological documents presented by companies trying to raise money - notably the Australian and Canadian exchanges, because they have to largest number of small companies trading in the mining industry.

Documents include not only ore reserves but exploration programs, requests to become a mining exploration company as well as financial and personnel documents. The report signatory should not in most cases be an employee. I could not have carried out my geological consultancy reporting without my South African registration. All such reports, such as NI43-101 for use on a Canadian Stock Exchange, are lodged on the SEDAR data base and accessible to anyone, free. A very strict format is laid down for completion of such reports.

In general I think that registration in one country is accepted by the others.

Brian King

Wallace is right 24 September 2015

Received 24 SEPTEMBER 2015
Published 24 SEPTEMBER 2015
From Tim Herrett

Sir,  We agree with Rob Wallace’s comments in the September 2015 edition of Geoscientist regarding the practical benefit of Chartership.

At the last Operations Geology conference in November 2014 presentations were made on the topic of competency in the field of operations geoscience in the oil industry. In the associated discussions similar views with respect to Chartership were expressed and a clear need for a robust and focused process emerged.

After a show of hands at the conference a clear mandate was given to pursue this idea and a UK Operational Geoscience Competency Initiative has since been started. A small group of experienced industry professionals has outlined a roadmap for ongoing work with the aim of creating a recognised industry wide competency management system (CMS) with accreditation. In the future a more broadly based steering group, including operators, service contractors and industry experts, will be formed to work the detail and implement the system.

There are obvious cost and efficiency benefits of having one recognised system. For operating companies it will give clarity on the competency of individuals who work for them or who are about to hire directly or take on contract. It is intended that there will a process of certification identifying an individual’s level of competency from basic awareness to expert. This ‘ticket’ will need to be reviewed every three to four years with a commitment to ongoing training and maintaining a personal development plan.

The CMS will not only benefit the industry as a whole but will also benefit, operations and wellsite geologists, pore pressure and geomechanics specialists and other professionals involved in operational geology. It will raise the profile of the discipline and bring us into line with other professions such as civil engineers, doctors and accountants who all have robust competency management systems.

Tim Herrett, On behalf of the Steering Group, Bob Fagg, Pat Spicer, Christine Telford, Martin Gardner.

Chartership is very useful! 17 September 2015

Received 02 SEPTEMBER 2015
Published 17 SEPTEMBER 2015
From John Lasocki

Sir,  In complete contrast to Rob Wallace (Geoscientist 25.8 p17) I have found the Chartership extremely useful. Firstly, my Chartered status gained me membership into Costco which has approximately 88 million members and 700 outlets worldwide, offering significant discounts on thousands of products.  I’ve also found it useful to draw one's eye away from my 'Diploma of the Imperial  College' title ('DIC'), when applying for jobs and listing my postnominals (BSc, MSc, DIC, CGeol, FGS)!

Chartership is very useful (2)! 17 September 2015

Received 14 SEPTEMBER 2015
Published 17 SEPTEMBER 2015
From Paul Joel

Sir, I disagree with Rob Wallace's recent letter questioning the practical benefits of Chartered Status.(Geoscientist Letters, 7 July 2015).

Within the aggregates sector of the UK minerals industry, Chartered status has long been seen as a 'benchmark' for achieving full career-level competency as a practising geologist. For our geologists it is a significant career milestone as we seek to develop an individual's competency and align it to career development. In a practical sense we ensure that individual competencies around the various types of project completion and sign-off (including Reserves and Resources reporting) are developed in parallel to the more formal requirements of Chartership. Thus the conferring of Chartered Status represents, in a very real sense, our confidence in a geologist's ability to operate within our organisation to a minimum level of technical supervision, but with the usual and appropriate mechanisms for peer review.

We are probably the largest employer of geologists within our sector and I believe that our practical approach to Chartership has served us well over the years. I understand that other organisations within our sector take a similar approach. In contrast to your correspondent I have noted a number of recruitment advertisements over the years which list CGeol as a requirement.

Paul Joel
Head of Geology

Landslides & Undermining: A Progressive Mechanism? 28 July 2015

Received 28 JULY 2015
Published 28 JULY 2015
From Stephen P Bentley

Sir, In February 1966 Laurits Bjerrum delivered the 3rd Terzaghi Lecture titled, “Progressive Failure in Slopes of Plastic Clay and Clay Shales”. In the lecture, and the subsequent paper, he demonstrated that strain produced by lateral unloading, after excavation of a slope, caused progressive development of slip surfaces along which the angle of shearing resistance reduced towards a residual value. Bjerrum included numerous case studies including the famous failures after the excavation of the Panama Canal.

Covering around 3000km2, the coal mining valleys of South Wales (UK) have one of the highest concentrations of landslides in Western Europe (Bentley & Siddle 1996). Many are deep-seated and have curvilinear slip surfaces where the linear sections follow the ~5o dipping bedding planes in the mainly argillaceous Rhondda Beds (Bentley 2000; Bentley & Siddle 2000).

For about 100 years the valleys were the home to over 620 collieries which mined subsurface coal in up to eight seams at depths of between 75 and 300 metres below the valley floors. Mechanised during the 1930’s the total-extraction long-wall mining and the resulting subsidence caused significant tensile strains over transient and permanent mining edges. Repeated up to eight times, could these waves of strain equate to lateral unloading and ground movements accommodated in bedding planes along which the angle of shearing resistance moved towards residual values? Mining subsidence driving progressive failure and as the slip surface lengthens, and in combination with other causal factors such as pore water pressures, the slope fails.

Many of the deep-seated, curvilinear landslides are well-documented and occurred during the mining era. Interestingly, there are others which are much older possibly periglacial in age (for example, Troedyrhiw in the Taff Valley, No51.7131 Wo-3.3390). Could lateral unloading by ice be another driver of progressive failure?

Could many of the recent landslides (1860 to 1960) be products of both mechanisms where the progressive development of slip surfaces is initiated by deglaciation and lengthened to the point of failure by mining subsidence?

Stephen P Bentley, Reader in Engineering Geology, Cardiff School of Engineering, Cardiff University.


  • Bentley S P (2000) Troedrhiwfuwch Landslide. In: Landslides and Landslide Management in South Wales ( Editors: Siddle H, Bromhead E N & Bassett MG) National Museum of Wales p69-70.
  • Bentley S P & Siddle H J (2000) New Tredegar Landslide. In: Landslides and Landslide Management in South Wales (Editored by Siddle H, Bromhead E N & Bassett MG) National Museum of Wales p71-74.
  • Bjerrum L (1967) Progressive Failure in Slopes of Overconsolidated plastic clay and Clay Shales. Proceedings of the 3rd Terzaghi Lecture, ASCE, 93, SM5, 3-46
  • Bentley S P & Siddle H J (1996) Landslide Research in the South Wales Coalfield, Engineering Geology, 43(1), p65-80.

Gravity and Mind - Anti-Austerity Violence Confirms Human Response to the Effects of Tectonic Stress 17 July 2015

Received 17 JULY 2015
Published 17 JULY 2015
From Alan Watson

Sir, The Anti-Austerity Protests on Saturday 9 May occurred within 14 days prior to the Kent Earthquake of 22 May 2015.  This violent disorder included 15 arrests and would classify as a ‘significant riot’ under the broad definition set out in my research, published in 2013. I believe this riot-quake example adds to the evidence for a Human Response to the effects of Tectonic Stress.

The Hypotheses I tested for the earlier period of my 1980 to 2012 research were that:

‘There is a significantly higher incidence of riots and disorder in the 14 days immediately before earthquakes of 2.5ML or greater [in England and Wales 1980 to 2012] than would be expected by chance.’


‘There is a significantly lower incidence of riots and disorder after more than 140 days has passed since the last most recent earthquake and when more than 14 days remain before the following earthquake of 2.5ML or greater [in England and Wales 1980 to 2012], than would be expected by chance.’

Interestingly, there were further, peaceful anti-austerity protests [‘End Austerity Now’ ] in London on Saturday 20 June 2015, attended by an estimated 250,000 people. The Metropolitan Police stated at the time that there were no arrests, confirming the peaceful nature of the demonstrations, after which BGS records available to date indicate there were no significant earthquakes of 2.5ML or greater beneath the land area of England and Wales within the following 14 days.

My conclusions remain valid that the probability of the hypotheses being wrong is less than 1% in both cases and to date this assertion has never been effectively opposed.

Alan Watson

Identify peer-reviewers 08 July 2015

Received 08 JULY 2015
Published 08 JULY 2015
From Robert Pankhurst

Sir, I thoroughly agree about the ethical problems of anonymous reviewing, highlighted in your recent Editorial (Geoscientist 25.6, p5). But I don’t see double-blind reviewing as the best solution, since it is often quite easy to recognise authors according to the subject, treatment, and the number of self-citations (!). Surely a better idea is for journals to adopt a policy of always identifying reviewers. This should ensure more certainly that they provide a balanced and responsible review, and only those who cannot be impartial would refuse to undertake such a review. GSL should take a lead on this.

Bob Pankhurst

Irony side 07 July 2015

Received 07 JULY 2015
Published 07 JULY 2015
From Simon Quinn

Sir, to illustrate an article about “inclusion” with an abandoned hospital wheelchair in a field may be regarded as somewhat crass (Geoscientist 25.6 pg 7, print issue).  But to place it next to an invite to enjoy port at the Athenaeum Club is a work of pure ironic genius!

Dr Simon Quinn, Amec

Chartership - What's the use? 07 July 2015

Received 07 JULY 2015
Published 07 JULY 2015
From Rob Wallace

Sir,  As a long-time C.Geol I have read the various recent articles and letters with interest.  They do however raise the question - is Chartership of any practical benefit?   

I work in the oil & gas business and in 20 years I can't remember a single job ad asking for CGeol, nor any request for bids stipulating the work should be carried out or supervised  by a Chartered member (or to be honest even a common-or-garden Fellow.....).  The only practical advantage it seems to give is when applying for a Work Permit in South Africa. 

We don't get a special journal, we don't have a palatial set of rooms to meet in and we don't even have Chartered Members-only events (thank heavens!)

So why keep paying the fees?   Personally the only reason I can justify it is that it actually forces me to do some training, and document it - otherwise I suspect I'd backslide badly on Continuing Education.

Rob Wallace

Wegener on a plate? 01 June 2015

Received 01 JUNE 2015
Published 01 JUNE 2015
From Harry Allan

Sir,  I was surprised to read Dr Shellnutt (Living with metrics, Geoscientist 25.3, p9) outline the work of the late Alfred Wegener on 'Plate Tectonics' - when in fact he only advocated the Continental Drift hypothesis in his 1911 book.

Harry Allan

New Executive Secretary Chartered, or 'charterable'? 18 May 2015

Received 18 MAY 2015
Published 18 MAY 2015
From Jonathan Cowie

Sir, Regarding Dick Selley's call  (Geoscientist 25.4, p21) for applicants for the post of the Society's new Executive Secretary to be a Chartered Geologist (CGeol), while most laudable is, I believe, neither the most pragmatic nor necessarily the most ideal criterion.

First, the Society's membership, which has grown over recent decades, is only just over 12,000 and the number of Fellows who hold Chartered Geologist status is many fewer than this.  To restrict applications to just this small pool would most likely exclude many capable and deserving candidates.

Second, it was cited that the Chief Executives of sister societies within the Science Council – relating to chemistry, physics and biology – were Chartered members of their discipline.  Actually some of these, when applying, were not then Chartered (or even non-Chartered) members of the body they went on to serve.  Indeed one of disciplines cited has found its past three Chief Executives among non-members at the time of application - only becoming members, and indeed Fellows of their society, after accepting the post.

Third, some of these bodies have benefited from having a Chief Exec who did not belong to their relevant discipline.  Indeed, one has had a scientist from a different discipline (albeit still a scientific one) and that person's 28-year tenure saw that body's membership increase by over 14,000!

Fourth, Selley concludes by noting that some of our sister science bodies' Chief Execs are 'even PhDs', as if a research qualification was both relevant for an administrative post and a necessary badge of professional belonging.  The Society is no longer even dominated politically by those into research, let alone numerically; the profession is way bigger than that.  Graduates in science carve out successful careers in many walks of life, including: teaching, science communication (journalism, publishing, press liaison, policy analysis and policy-making, in small businesses and, dare I say it, the dark arts of the financial sector, among many other sectors.

Personally, I want to see the best person for the job.  The post requires a mix of skills and getting it right is not easy.  Indeed some (if not all) of our allied professional bodies have seen some of their Chief Execs leave office in less than ideal circumstances (folk who were relevant professionals with PhDs) and those that did so quickly should be praised for recognising that the burden of administration was not for them.

Let us not hamper our Council at this time with restrictive conditions.

Jonathan Cowie

Why HAS local stone become so hard to find? 18 May 2015

Received 18 MAY 2015
Published 18 MAY 2015
From John Heathcote

Sir, Articles in this month's Geoscientist and Geoscientist Online lead me to reflect on the sad state of the UK's stone industry (as opposed to aggregate). 

I'm having a new house built, and there is a requirement that 'the roof shall be of natural slate'.  Clearly quite a few houses have roofs of fake slate, made from fibre-reinforced cement.  The rest is Spanish or even Chinese slate.  All are much cheaper that Welsh slate.  Scottish slate was always scarce as a result of geology, and is no longer extracted at all so is available only second-hand.  Why should Spanish slate be cheaper - notionally part of the European Union - with its much greater transport distances?  I also sought some walling stone, but none of the quarries still working flagstone in Caithness produce walling stone any longer.

The new house is near Dingwall, but no-one is now quarrying the distinctive, red, lower Devonian sandstone from which the town is built.  I have managed to find some usable Moine psammite, which a local quarry saves from the crusher.  It comes in handy brick-sized pieces as a result of close jointing and they have realised that there is a small market.

Why has UK produced building and ornamental stone become such an unavailable and unaffordable commodity?

John Heathcote

Solar variation and climate change - reply 18 May 2015

Received 18 MAY 2015
Published 18 MAY 2015
From Colin Summerhayes
Sir, In response to the letter of 18 March by Stephen Foster, I would like to point out that while the sun is the main driver for Earth’s climate, variations in sunspot activity provide only a minor modification to Earth’s global temperature. The main changes in global temperature through geological time are driven by (a) variations in insolation forced by changes in the Earth’s orbit and the tilt of the Earth’s axis, and (b) variations in atmospheric CO2.

As shown by Wanner et al. (2015), orbital forcing has declined significantly over the past 10,000 years, in parallel with global temperature, as deduced from a wide range of proxies. It can be considered the main driver for Holocene climate change, because CO2 changed very little over the same period. The changes in insolation due to solar activity are much smaller than those caused by orbital change, so are superimposed as wiggles on this downward cooling trend. Following a Holocene Climatic Optimum, about 4,000 years ago, this cooling led Earth into a neoglacial phase, characterized by glacial readvance, which culminated in the Little Ice Age (LIA) (1250-1850). The coldest phases of the LIA occurred during periods of prolonged sunspot minima (Wolf Minimum: 1280 to 1345 AD; Spörer Minimum: 1420 to 1540 AD; Maunder Minimum: 1645-1715 AD; Dalton Minimum: 1790-1820 AD; and Gleissberg Minimum: 1890-1910 AD). The orbital data suggest that this neoglacial phase should persist for the next 5000 years (Loutre and Berger, 2000). Indeed, recognizing the dominance of the orbital signal, we should still be in the LIA – albeit in one of its warm phases.

Foster is correct in drawing attention to the current decline in sunspot numbers, which may be leading towards a further grand sunspot minimum like those mentioned above. We can see the pattern of recent sunspot activity in Figure 1 (from Clette et al., 2014). Clette et al. (2014) recalibrated the original sunspot series to show that by the mid 18th century solar activity had returned to levels typical of recent solar cycles in the 20th century, but is now in decline (see Figure 1, which shows sunspot groups rather than actual sunspot numbers - for explanation see Clette et al., 2014). Aside from the 11-year sunspot cycle, the Figure shows some of the grand sunspot minima mentioned above, which are caused by the fluctuations of either the 208-year Suess (or de Vries) Cycle, or the 88-year Gleissberg Cycle, along with their ‘combination tones’ (where signals of different wavelengths interfere with one another to accentuate or diminish the underlying signal) at 152 and 62 years. 


Foster assumes from the current decline in sunspot activity from its peak in 1990, that “this energy reduction has initiated an expected reversal from the past warm era to a new cold era”. Is he correct? In fact, global temperatures have been more or less stable for the past 14 years, with 2014 at least as warm if not warmer than preceding years. Argo float data show that the ocean continued to gain heat at a rate of 0.4-0.6W/m2 between 2006 and 2013 (Roemmich et al., 2015). And observations by satellite radar altimeter show that the loss of ice from ice shelves around Antarctica was minimal in 1994-2003 (25±64 km3/yr), but rapid in 2003-2012 (310±74 km3) (Paolo et al. 2015). Arctic sea ice also exhibited a decline through the 2000s. These are not signs that the world is cooling. It seems counterintuitive that Antarctic sea ice is expanding slightly, but that expansion may be connected to the melting of West Antarctic ice shelves, mentioned above, which freshens the surface waters around the continent.

So what is going on? I suggest that what we are experiencing is a balance between the cooling to be expected from a growing sunspot minimum (which may or may not turn out to be long), combined with the warming to be expected from growing emissions of greenhouse gases. If I am right, then Dr Foster’s calculation that temperatures will cool by “1.0 and 1.5 degrees C lower than the peak year of 1998” may turn out to be a poor guess.

Dr Foster seems not to be convinced (despite experimental evidence) that CO2 has any effect on atmospheric temperatures. I recommend that he examine carefully the record of climate change across the Palaeocene-Eocene boundary, 55 million years ago (Zachos et al., 2008). There we find ample evidence for a massive increase in the emission of carbon into the atmosphere, a significant rise in temperature, acidification of the ocean causing a rise in the carbonate compensation depth, and a significant rise in sea level. There is no extraneous cause for the rise in temperature, so it is highly unlikely that it drove the rise in CO2.

There is abundant evidence that there were times in Earth’s history when plate tectonic processes provided a CO2 source, through enhanced volcanism, and times when the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere by chemical weathering in growing mountain chains formed a sink for CO2, as part of the slow carbon cycle described elegantly by the late Bob Berner (2004), and that these changes modified Earth’s temperature. Equally, there were times when changes in orbital insolation forced changes in Earth’s temperature, which drove changes in CO2 through the loss of CO2 to the air from warming water, and its re-solution by colder water, which accentuated orbital warming and cooling by positive feedback. Thus CO2 can both drive temperature change and be driven by it. This is all fundamental geochemistry.

To conclude, the graph above shows that the peak sunspot numbers of the late 20th century were about the same as those of the warm periods of the LIA (1780-90; 1840-70). Given that the late 20th Century was about 0.8°C warmer than the warm temperatures in the 1870s, the late 20th Century warmth must have had some other source than solar – most likely the rise in CO2 stemming from the industrial revolution and its aftermath.  If not that, then what?

Colin Summerhayes Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge


  1. Wanner, H., Mercolli, L., Grosjean, M, and Ritz, S.P.,  (2011) Holocene climate variability and change – a data based review. J. Geol. Soc London 172,  254-26
  2. Loutre, M.F., and  Berger, A., 2000 Loutre, M.-F., and Berger, A. (2000) Future climate changes: are we entering an exceptionally long interglacial? Clim. Change 46, 61-90.
  3. Clette, F., Svalgaard, L., Vaquero, J.M., and Cliver, E.W. (2014) Revisiting the sunspot number. Space Science Reviews 186 (1-4), 35-103
  4. Roemmich, D., Church, J., Gilson, J., Monselesan, D., Sutton, P., Wijffels, S., (2015)  Unabated planetary warming and its ocean structure since 2006. Nature Climate Change 5 (3): 240-245.
  5. Paolo, F.S., Fricker, H.A., Padman, L., (2015)  Volume Loss from Antarctic Ice Shelves is Accelerating. Science : DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa0940.
  6. Zachos, J.C., Fickens, G.R., and Zeebe, R E., (2008) An early Cenozoic perspective on greenhouse warming and carbon-cycle dynamics. Nature 451, 279-283.
  7. Berner, R.A., (2004) The Phanerozoic Carbon Cycle: CO2 and O2. Oxf. Univ. Press, 124pp.

Nepal - supply Morrison Shelters! 18 May 2015

Received 18 MAY 2015
Published 18 MAY 2015
From Graham West

From Graham West

trdhyutyeiSir, Once again, the recent earthquake in Nepal has shown that many of the victims were killed and injured inside buildings by falling or collapsing masonry.

During WW2, protecting occupants from building collapse during air raids was provided by supplying them with so-called Morrison Shelters, named for the then Minister for Home Security. These were prefabricated steel cage-like enclosures (picture) in which a family could take shelter and be safe if the house collapsed on them.  They were simple to make and erect (it was said that they could be put up by a pair of boy scouts!).

This, then would seem to be a lo-tech solution to providing protection from earthquakes in developing countries.  Morrison Shelters would be easy to manufacture, should not be too expensive, and people could be taught to erect them without difficulty.

Graham West

Bravo, Mr Brassington! 14 May 2015

Received 17 JUNE 2015
Published 14 MAY 2015
From John Shanklin

Sir, As first President of the Institution of Geologists, I should like to congratulate Rick Brassington for yet again flying the flag for the Institution.   Throughout its long life, Rick has been a continuing enthusiast for our activities.

Keep up the good work Mr Brassington.

John Shanklin

New Executive Secretary should not need Chartered Geologist status 14 May 2015

Received 07 MAY 2015
Published 14 MAY 2015
From John Murray

Sir,  That the Executive Secretary should be a professional geologist is indisputable. However, the majority of professional geologists do not have chartered status as is shown by the Annual Review for 2014: out of a membership of 11,606 a mere 21% (2495) are chartered.  Therefore, I do not believe it should be essential for the Executive Secretary to have chartered status.

John Murray,   Ocean and Earth Science  National Oceanography Centre Southampton, University of Southampton, European Way, Southampton SO14 3ZH

New Executive Secretary must be a Chartered Geologist (2) 13 April 2015

Received 13 APRIL 2015
Published 13 APRIL 2015
From Rick Brassington

Sir,   I chaired the Governance Committee in 1996 that constituted the five Vice-Presidents and myself.  Our report to Council recognised the important role of the Executive Secretary in representing the Society and furthering its aims for the science and profession of geology at a high level both in the UK and internationally.  The Executive Secretary provides an important continuity within the Society's governance as the Bye-laws dictate that Presidents, Honorary Officers and Council Members may only serve for a limited time.  For these reasons the Governance Committee recommended that the Executive Secretary should be a professionally experienced Chartered Geologist.

Reading the recently published recruitment advertisement in the April issue of this magazine, it would seem that, 18 years later, this important aspect of the role of the Executive Secretary may have been overlooked and this requirement has not been included in the Bye-laws during the various reviews that have occurred during recent times.  

I hope that this aspect will not be overlooked by the committee charged with making the appointment and am reassured by the comments made by the President in response to the letter from Dick Selley.

Rick Brassington

New Executive Secretary must be a Chartered Geologist 01 April 2015

Received 01 APRIL 2015
Published 01 APRIL 2015
From Dick Selley

Sir, Many Fellows will be as surprised as I am to read that the recruitment advertisement in Geoscientist (Geoscientist 25.3, April 2015, p30) for a new Executive Secretary does not specify that the successful applicant will be a professional geologist; only that ‘He/she will have a strong empathy for the membership, very likely with experience and professional credibility or academic credentials in a related field'.

In 1996 the Governance Committee recommended to Council, and Council concurred, that the post of Executive Secretary should be occupied by a professional geologist. These were the grounds for replacing Richard Bateman with Edmund Nickless.  I was an Officer at the time and know what a traumatic experience this was for the Society. The change marked a ‘seismic shift’, as the profile of the Society metamorphosed from ‘ancient academicals’ to ‘professionalising moderns’1.

The wisdom of the change has been demonstrated over the last 18 years. Furthermore the Chief Executive Officers of our sister societies, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Society of Biology, are all members/fellows of their respective bodies, some even PhDs (Biology, Physics) and one even a professor (Physics).

Surely the Geological Society of London would exhibit retrograde metamorphism if it did not appoint a professional geologist to the high profile post of Executive Secretary.

Dick Selley


  1. Herries Davies G L  2007: Whatever is under the Earth. Geological Society of London. Bath. 356pp.

Professor David Manning, President, replied:

We would be delighted to appoint a Chartered Geologist to this role, and look forward to receiving applications from those Chartered Geologists who feel qualified to meet the requirements of the position.

Solar variation and climate change 18 March 2015

Received 18 MARCH 2015
Published 18 MARCH 2015
From Stephen W Foster

Sir, I write in response to the letter of Prof Sumerhayes of 17. 7. 14, with particular reference to his comments on solar radiance and temperatures. In both of the cases quoted by Prof Summerhayes, he has chosen to ignore evidence that flatly contradicts, if not outright disproves, his arguments, and raises serious questions about the use and reliability of some proxy data sets to reconstruct past temperatures.

With reference to the sun and global average temperatures I include a graph of sunspot activity and global temperatures for the last four (21 to 24) solar cycles with the caption provided by the source (Space Science Research Centre, 2014).

Foster spots 

I quote the SSRC statement of 10. 12. 14. with reference to this data and its implications for future short term (30 years) global temperatures:

"The rate of temperature decline on a 100-year trend line is the steepest seen during that time frame going back to 1914. The most recent multi-centennial climate epoch which began around 1830, has begun to reverse direction from a global temperature standpoint. The past period of generally increasing warmth for the Earth, which was caused by the Sun’s natural and regular cycles of activity, reached an average peak of warming between 2007 and 2008 as measured by global atmospheric temperatures in the lower troposphere. This change was observed in oceanic temperatures as early as 2003. Acting primarily under the influence of a repeating 206 year solar cycle, a new “solar hibernation” has begun, and is marked by a significant decline in the Sun’s energy output. Starting with solar cycle #24, this energy reduction has initiated an expected reversal from the past warm era to a new cold era... There has been no effective growth in global temperatures for 18 years...and polar regions have now displayed a consistent trend of colder temperatures and growth in sea ice."

SSRC further predicts that:

 "...unless there is a significant unexpected and rapid change in the present declining solar activity trend, then a period of solar hibernation will follow" and that this will result in "either new 200-year cold weather records or 400-year temperature records and widespread climate and weather extremes. Both of these predictions would result in global average temperatures falling between 1.0 and 1.5 degrees C lower than the peak year of 1998". SSRC predicts that these changes will occur "in the next year or two".

Readers will be able to make their own judgements concerning the value of the graph and the comments made by Prof Summerhayes regarding solar radiation output, the "ample information" about Be10 and C14 values and temperatures in his letter referred to above, and further so in the light of NASA data that shows that maximum solar output occurred in the early years of this century, not the 1970s as Prof. Summerhayes' proxy data suggests.

The well known Maunder and Dalton Minima of solar counts and their possible effects on temperatures can be readily seen on the graph.  Readers may also wish to consider Prof Summerhayes' reference to the GSL climate change statement (2013) and the assumptions upon which that was based. In view of the fact that the data presented in the graph above were available to the authors of that statement, and that these data were evidently either ignored or given little weight leads me at least to the conclusion that a single hypothesis was more important to those authors than an objective analysis and evaluation of all available data and hypotheses.

Prof Summerhayes' statement that because "IPCC numerical climate...models’ outputs match recent meteorological data well up to the present time…it cannot be said that anthropogenic global warming has been disproved by the models’ performance." is simply wrong. I stated in an earlier letter (16.10.13) that there have been over 30 iterations of the IPCC model, and that none of them have made any accurate prediction of temperature change: such "predictions" that have been made have been proved to be wildly wrong and have had to be "adjusted" post hoc in order to match the actual temperature record.

The IPCC have so exaggerated the importance of CO2 that even when they do include other variables in their model the results are hopelessly inaccurate. There are many models other than that of the IPCC which have successfully predicted recent meteorological data accurately - they only require that temperatures rise to the extent that they have done in the past three decades - the causes of those changes are irrelevant. Prof Summerhayes has again failed to make the distinction between correlation and causation and recognise that there may be any number of factors causing variation in global average temperatures, upwards or downwards, which is why we need multiple working hypotheses when trying to better understand complex natural phenomena.

I have also stated that global climate is a consequence of the interaction of two complex fluid-dynamic systems and that because the behaviour of both is chaotic, predicting their behaviour over the longer term is inherently impossible. This means that the close coupling between sunspot activity and temperatures in the past 400 years as illustrated on the graph above is both remarkable and worthy of further detailed analysis and assessment by groups without preconceived notions about what may or may not be causing temperature fluctuations during that time. The lack of coupling between CO2 concentrations and temperature over the same 400-year period is even starker and serves to reinforce my argument. The AGW hypothesis has singularly failed to predict or explain any of these variations and this should be sufficient ground for its rejection. Politics and the politics of academic science are the major impediment to this happening, which was the key to my original letter on this subject.

This brings me to my final point. I have repeatedly asked for but have not been given, incontrovertible evidence that changes in CO2concentrations cause significant changes in global temperature. Reference to laboratory experiments are invalid because these are closed systems whereas the Earth's atmosphere is an open system and by definition will behave in a completely different manner. It has not "been known" that there is a causal link between CO2 concentrations and temperature since the end of the 19th Century (Prof Summerhayes, Geoscientist letters; 17. 7. 14): it has been assumed that such a link exists and it is this that I and others are challenging in the tradition of good scientific practice. Nowhere in the writings of Gilbert is evidence presented to demonstrate that an increase in CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere will cause an increase in temperature, only that the two are correlated.

Gilbert's assumption also underpins the books on planetary atmospheric science quoted by Prof. Summerhayes and means that they too are of questionable value: they are based on unproven assumptions which have achieved the status of unchallengeable myth. I have asked for evidence, not opinion, and I am still waiting for it. No matter. because an answer will be provided within a decade when we will all be able to observe directly the global average temperature trend. If temperatures do start to fall as predicted by the solar model above, the reaction of supporters of the AGW hypothesis will be very interesting and informative.

In the meantime I will concern myself with more acute and worrying environmental problems including among others, the pernicious spread of plastic waste, (C. Mackenzie, Soapbox: 7 August 2014).

Stephen W Foster.

Mud in our eye 04 February 2015

Received 04 FEBRUARY 2015
Published 04 FEBRUARY 2015
From Stephen Parker

Sir, I would like to congratulate you on the latest Geoscientist, which at last recognises the significance of the main subject of my career!  The lifetime of mud and X-ray diffraction was in fact quite a jolly one, despite the jokes of my colleagues at Reading, and I still believe it to have been a really significant part of geology.

Andrew Parker

Taking the Keeble road to postgraduate funding 03 February 2015

Received 03 FEBRUARY 2015
Published 03 FEBRUARY 2015
From Morris Stevenson

Don KeeblePicture: D.H.L.  Keeble MC TD EurIng BSc(Eng)(London) CEng FICE FIHT MConsE

Donovan (‘Don’) Keeble established an Educational Charity in 1989.  Following a distinguished career as a professional Civil Engineer in the UK and Southern Africa, as well as military service in which he was awarded the Military Cross for action at Dunkirk.  Don had the vision to establish a charity to award ‘scholarships, exhibitions, bursaries or maintenance allowances ...  for the advancement of education of persons who intend to pursue a career in Consulting Geotechnical Engineering.’

Don consulted closely with Dr Mike De Freitas of Imperial College on the need for financial support for students at that time.  They considered the use to which such support would be put, the things that could go wrong, and the means by which such support might be best directed.  Mike Scott, who was the Managing Director of Southern Testing at that time, was also consulted.

Don donated part of his shareholding in Southern Testing (STL) to the Trust, to fund the educational awards.  The Trust is administered by Southern Testing, and I have had the privilege of being one of three Trustees for the last 24 years.  The awards are independent of Southern Testing and are designed for the educational needs of individual postgraduate students.  Don was keen that application for this help should be simple and straightforward.  We have given awards to over 50 geologists and civil engineers, predominately to assist funding for Masters degrees in geotechnical engineering. 

We would be delighted to hear from candidates who have benefited from our awards, with details of their current employment.  We would also be interested to know how they came to hear of the awards, how it helped them at the time, and their career progression.  Links to Social Media are available on Southern Testing’s Website for this use.

Individual awards vary according to funds available (reflecting the financial performance of Southern Testing) along with the needs of successful applicants.

Funding of postgraduate studies has become limited since the Trust was set up in 1989.  Perhaps it is time for other large and small-scale consultants (and those who feel philanthropic) to set up a similar method of funding, not directly related to their organisation, to finance the next generation of consulting engineers and geologists. 

Don felt a very strong and personal need to do this, perhaps as a way of returning to society something he felt he owed.  Educational philanthropy is going to be needed and should be a significant source of future funding in our profession.

Morris Stevenson

Chairman and Managing Director, Don Keeble STL Trust/Southern Testing Laboratories Ltd.

Year of Mud - let's hear it for bentonites! 03 February 2015

Received 03 FEBRUARY 2015
Published 03 FEBRUARY 2015
From Richard Batchelor

apatiteSir, There is mud (assorted clays and clastics) containing lovely animal and plant fossils, then there is mud (clay) produced by the alteration of volcanic glass. Yes, I am talking about bentonites (mostly smectite/illite), which I have worked on for 30 years.

Picture: Apatite crystal from a Silurian bentonite, containing an oval melt inclusion.

These muds also contain fossils, but these are fossil crystals formed in situ in the original melt. Apatite, zircon and sometimes biotite occur as beautifully preserved crystals which also tell a story, albeit a geochemical one.

zirconsCombined with bulk chemical analysis, the fossil crystals help to date the rock, to identify the magmatic environments and to correlate strata across countries, and sometimes across continents.

Let’s hear it for bentonites!

Picture: Two crystals of zircon from an Ordovician bentonite.

Richard A Batchelor

Online publishing - reply to Don Hallett & Desmond Donovan 03 February 2015

Received 03 FEBRUARY 2015
Published 03 FEBRUARY 2015
From Neal Marriott

Sir, Don Hallet’s Soapbox piece (Geoscientist, November 2014) and Desmond Donovan’s letter (Geoscientist, February 2015) raise interesting issues in relation to scholarly publishing. It is quite right to assert that there are factors at play that might distort author and publisher behaviour, and that commercial competition has led to a proliferation of journals, but most publishers (both society and commercial) make genuine efforts to improve the discoverability of the content they publish via a range of search interfaces, and invest heavily in services that add value to authors’ papers. Indeed, since 2007 the version of record for Geological Society publications has been the online copy hosted on the Lyell Collection (, where both PDF and HTML displays are available, and we have invested continually in author and reader functionality. There is a growing number of online titles for which print is no longer offered - though print versions of GSL books and journals do remain available to those who prefer them.

Desmond makes a pertinent suggestion about centrally organised electronic publishing on behalf of the major societies. In fact the Society has contributed its content to just such an aggregation for 10 years now – GeoScienceWorld (, an online-only collection of 45 full text journals and over 1000 ebooks from 28 society publishers, with nearly 1000 subscribing institutions worldwide.

Neal Marriott, Colin North

War Graves - Hopton Wood Limestone (Carboniferous) 03 February 2015

Received 03 FEBRUARY 2015
Published 03 FEBRUARY 2015
From Mark Cope

Sir, Picking up on John Dixon’s letter regarding Portland Stone substitutes used by the War Graves Commission, I am surprised not to hear Hopton Wood Stone being mentioned at all.  Hopton Wood Stone is a Carboniferous Limestone, off-white to buff in colour, and sparsely fossiliferous, which is quarried in the Wirksworth area of Derbyshire. It has been used extensively in the local area on building facades of public buildings, and is still used today as an ornamental stone in modern fireplace surrounds.

I have read it was used by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as an alternative to the Jurassic Portland Stone, on account of its remarkable similarity.  With reference to a conference paper by Ian Thomas (2008), Director of the National Stone Centre in Worksworth, its historical use by the CWGC was significant, amounting to over 120,000 headstones by 1939.  The paper also refers to 100-200 headstones per year still being produced for the CWGC at the time of writing.  My understanding is that Hopton Wood Stone was also widely used as an alternative to Portland Limestone in the rebuilding of London after the Blitz.

Mark Cope

  • Thomas, I.A., 2008. Hopton Wood Stone, England’s premier decorative stone. 90-105 in Doyle, P., Hughes, T. & Thomas, I.A. (eds.). England’s stone heritage. Proceedings of conference 2005, English Stone Forum: Folkestone.


God or Gaia required 27 January 2015

Received 27 JANUARY 2015
Published 27 JANUARY 2015
From Rob Gray

Sir, One characteristic of the anthropic principle, not addressed by David Waltham, is that it does not work into the future.  If sentient life is here merely due to the chance of Earth throwing 35 consecutive sixes then there is no guarantee of throwing another. Looking at the risks encountered over the last 70 years - totalitarianism; nuclear proliferation; CFC's and climate change for example - would seem to illustrate the point well.  For me the arguments Waltham presents support the need for God and/or Gaia to explain our present day miracle and to underpin our future.

Rob Gray