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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

Aberfan - failure of corporate memory still an issue 27 October 2016

Received 27 OCTOBER 2016
Published 27 OCTOBER 2016
From Geoffrey Walton

Sir, Thank you for the articles on the Aberfan Disaster (Geoscientist 26.09 October 2016).   There was much to agree with in both articles, but also more that could have been said.  The beneficial impact in terms of improvements in professional practice has not been as widespread internationally as it should have been starting with the collapse of a colliery refuse dam at Middle Fork, Buffalo Creek in West Virginia in 1972 when 125 people were killed and over 1,000 injured.  As outlined in the excellent Engineering Group Memorial Lecture on 18 October, similar coal and mine waste tip failures continue to occur internationally. 

They also continue to occur in Britain a recent significant failure of discards tip taking place in February 2013 at Hatfield Colliery.  In the Ansel Dunham Memorial Lecture ‘Aberfan and After’ given at this September’s Extractive Industry Geology Conference at Birmingham University, Dr Alan Cobb explained how the Hatfield Colliery tip failure disrupted and closed a 4 track main railway line.  A disaster was averted by Network Rail’s safety system working properly when the tip failed along a 260m length of tip flank and moved up to 70m beyond the toe of the tip.  There had been no accurate survey of the tip, no design, no stability analysis and the latest tip report was more than 6 months out of date.  So much for failing private sector safety systems – thank goodness it was not Rail Track!  Those who advise or are employed in geotechnics by the surface mining and quarrying sector in Great Britain now work with the Quarries Regulations 1999 which are more demanding and explicit in their requirements than those of the 1971 Regulations.  However, even with continuous and on-going monitoring and investigations, some problems still occur. 

Alan Cobb also outlined in his talk the precursor events in and near Aberfan and especially the three flow slides that were identified as having taken place previously.  Two of these took place at Aberfan, as noted in your Tipping Point article - namely at Tips 4 and 7 in November 1944 and November 1963, but were not recognised as such and the first occurred near Abercynon in December 1939.  This latter flow slide, which travelled down the eastern side of the Taff Vale further down-stream, crossed the main road, a canal, a railway and the River Taff which it slightly diverted.  No-one was killed and the then owners Powell Duffryn prepared a detailed report which set out future tipping arrangements to avoid such problems.  The war and nationalisation intervened and although the report was still ‘in the system’ no one paid attention. 

This represented then, in 1966, and remains to this day a problem of ‘corporate memory’.   It is particularly a problem with an industry that changes rapidly with closures, take-overs and the like, especially if they are failing financially.  More often than not senior management on the geotechnical side are ‘retired’ or given a part time consultancy role, when they may be the only repository of knowledge of past events.  It behoves the Engineering Group of GSL and other professional interest groups such as the IMMM and the EIG to publish key information on these and other things that go wrong, for future use.  So often this is frustrated by companies and lawyers seeking to hide or delay matters being made public – often using litigation or gagging measures to prevent employees, consultants and others from publishing precautionary advice. 

One may seek to criticise the Aberfan Tribunal’s work by today’s standards, but it blamed and severely criticised the NCB, it was technically sound, relevant and moreover it was made public promptly.  No one should underestimate the valuable scientific work done by Prof Alan Bishop of the Department of Civil Engineering at Imperial College in assessing the causes of instability for the Tribunal.  The Engineering Group and the Society should also be proud of the work done subsequently by Dr Roy Taylor of the engineering geology section of the Department of Geology at Durham University (who was active in the Group) on the engineering properties of colliery discards.  

In spite of the horrors for those involved in the disaster, the event changed the lives of many geo-professionals, often beneficially and certainly of those living and working near these structures across the country.  We should be grateful to those who investigated the causes and controls of slope instability following the disaster.  Perhaps we should more actively seek to thwart those who aim to prevent the spread of enlightenment in geotechnics and other areas of geoscience practice.

Geoffrey Walton


Aberfan. Worst? Yes. Deadliest? No 25 October 2016

Received 25 OCTOBER 2016
Published 25 OCTOBER 2016
From R Marsh

Sir, Nobody would quibble (I hope) with your description of the Aberfan 1966 disaster (Geoscientist 26.09 October 2016) as the worst in British history.  In terms of anguish, it certainly was, principally because of the fact that so many of the victims were so young, and all, young and old, were 'non-combatants'.  It is telling that, while most mining disasters are named for the mine, Aberfan is named for the village.

However, if we allow ourselves to succumb for a moment to that (to some) annoying scientific habit of defining terms and putting numbers on things, many readers might equate 'worst' with 'deadliest'.  And in that grisly league table, Aberfan 1966 was by no means the 'worst'.

In 1866, the Oaks Explosion killed 388 near Barnsley, Yorkshire - England's ‘worst’.  In Scotland the 1877 disaster at Blantyre claimed 207.  Wales suffered the greatest number of deadly accidents in Britain, and the deadliest of these (and UK record holder) was Senghennydd, where an explosion killed 439 miners in 1913.  In terms of number, Aberfan comes in at about 17th ‘most deadly’ British mining disasters.

R Marsh

After Aberfan 25 October 2016

Received 25 OCTOBER 2016
Published 25 OCTOBER 2016
From Andy Lane

Sir, The two feature articles on the Aberfan disaster in Geoscientist 26.9 October 2016 have rekindled strong memories of a defining period in my early career as a geologist.

By mid-1967, I was in post with the South Wales Geological Services, a unit formerly concerned with coal production but now rapidly expanding, taking on staff to cover tip site survey - the upgrades to the Mines and Quarries Acts were looming.   Before this there had been no geological input at all into tip site selection and management. The expanded unit included four “old hands” to continue the coal production work, three new boys such as myself and a geologist acquired from the Opencast Executive to work on the tip site surveys. Only the latter had any experience of the shallow geology of the coalfield.  We were fully supported by clerical and drafting staff. 

The NCB has quite rightly been pilloried many times over because of the Aberfan disaster, but the purpose of this letter is to try and show that at least at grassroots level its specialist staff made great efforts to redress this shocking situation.  The upcoming Acts meant that tens if not hundreds of sites both large and small needed a careful survey and report. We did our best, our efforts often not being appreciated by senior management who for one thing did not accept that geologists should express an opinion.  We were firstly directed to inspect those tips threatening lives and property, and those whose collapse might interfere with the NCB’s prime activity. Other sites, future, current and disused came later.  We were learners at this stage and we made use of all available methods, some of which must seem very basic today:

  • Surface mapping of solid outcrop and superficial deposits.
  • Feature mapping (absolutely vital).
  • Basic hydrogeology based on understanding lithology and structures, augmented by borehole data and piezometer readings.
  • Core logging (and the liaison with drillers and consultants).
  • Detailed desk studies of old surface maps and underground plans
  • Air photo interpretation.
  • Liaison with colliery survey and tip site staff.
  • Logging of any nearby shallow drifts of roadways.

After field work and data collection we were then required to prepare a site map and report, identifying any features of significance or concern.  However, we were not permitted to refer to any of these as “problems” or “threats” as we were not senior engineering staff and thus were not in a position to come to valid conclusions! 

Working with colliery staff in the office or up on the mountain top was always a pleasure.  Information was given freely, usually with a cup of tea, and no end of useful tips picked up. These people did more to help clear up the mess (on all scales) than is given credit for.

Field work on the tip sites led to many a long and physical day, often in all weathers, and not without its hazards in terms of deep bogs and exposure. In many ways it was the ultimate in fieldwork-based geology, and one that shaped me for the future (but perhaps it would not suit everybody today).

The NCB workforce, and the lower echelons of management I believe can in no way be blamed for the disaster.  There was no background training for any event of this type or scale, even though the warning signs were there, and today would be obvious.  Everybody I met was keen to learn and make sure nothing similar ever happened again.  Of the higher management, I don’t feel so kind, having experienced pomposity, narrow mindedness and jealousy of status. I suppose this was compounded by an alarming amount of ignorance.  It is good to think that management practice is in a different world today.

In the Geoscientist’s two features there is no mention of the effect of superficial deposits on the hydrogeology, particularly the cloak of impermeable boulder clay that covered the flanks of most valleys to varying heights.  This boulder clay we found to be of concern as it could displace a spring line up the hill from its position suggested by the solid geology.  I believe this was a factor in the Aberfan slip.

Also worthy of mention there was an even closer template for the Aberfan slide than that of Tip 4 in 1944, occurring a year or two earlier across Mynydd Merthyr close to Penrhiwceiber in the Cynon Valley. This tip was a large linear tip that was built up across the slope to the south. In 1941 or 1942, it gave way and ran as a slurry slide down the hillside, crossing the A4059 Abercynon road near the valley floor, continuing westwards to block the railway and fill the old canal. But like Tip 4, no one was hurt, and in the darkest days of World War 2, it must have seemed an inconvenient but largely insignificant event. People’s minds were focused elsewhere.

Dr Andy Lane

Aberfan and Farnborough Disasters 18 October 2016

Received 18 OCTOBER 2016
Published 18 OCTOBER 2016
From Keith Montague

Sir, Interesting that you link the Farnborough crash and the Aberfan tragedy in your excellent leader (Geoscientist 26.09 October 2016). I have a personal interest in both; a direct one for Farnborough as I was there that day, and a tangential one for Aberfan partly because it occurred on the day of my grandfather’s funeral and I well recall watching the television news that evening (in black and white – Aberfan will always for me be black and white), and partly because my specialism was geotechnical engineering.

The link you make about there being no prosecutions, no persons held responsible, no resignations is of course not completely valid. In 1952 everyone was aware that prototype aircraft would crash and that air shows were places for derring-do activities by test pilots. John Derry was performing the very first supersonic ‘bang’ at an air show and had done this successfully on each of the previous days (Neville Duke followed the crash with just such a bang).

Anyone attending an air show knew that they might well see a crash; what was less expected was that members of the public would be killed. Yet it is true that, in that post-war period, we were much more philosophical and less likely to find blame.  A better comparison would have been with the Crichel Down affair of 1954 where a catalogue of official incompetence and deceit did, indeed, lead to a ministerial resignation. 

I had first been taken to Farnborough in 1951 as an eight year-old by my father, who was in the aviation industry. That year we watched from the ‘hill’, the best vantage point. The following year we were delayed at Waterloo and were too late for the hill – we had to sit on lower ground – but the hill was, of course, where the engine was to fall that killed so many people. I well remember asking my father, as the engines flew overhead, “what are those Daddy?”.  The full impact of what had happened was initially lost on me.

Without that delayed train at Waterloo, I might well not be here to correspond with you.

Keith Montague

Fellows Room should be restored 14 September 2016

Received 14 SEPTEMBER 2016
Published 14 SEPTEMBER 2016
From Caroline Finch

Sir, Like many other members, I use the library and Fellows' room infrequently, but value the 'meaning' this gives of being able to use the facilities and I have used the fellows room on a number of occasions. 

I hope it is restored to the use of fellows in the future - so please use this letter as an indication of 'discontent' at its current unavailability. I live in Malawi, but will remain a Fellow and will expect to use the library again in person when I return to the UK.

Once it is restored to its proper function, I would be more inclined to use the facilities more frequently if the Fellows' room were given a bit of a face-lift in terms of furniture and made a little more welcoming!

Caroline Finch

Crossing the Merdesey 13 September 2016

Received 13 SEPTEMBER 2016
Published 13 SEPTEMBER 2016
From George Reeves

Sir, Recent discussions (including at the IGC in Capetown) and attendant UK press publicity (especially The Guardian, front page, September 30) reminded me of a formative geological field-class experience in the late 1960s.

The class of budding second-year sedimentologists found themselves in the capable hands of the late Robin Bathurst, fresh from diving and snorkelling research activities in the Bahamas , which illustrated his inspirational lectures to us. This was just prior to the publication of his seminal Carbonate Sediments and their Diagenesis, Elsevier, 1971.  The banks of the River Mersey, just outside the river mouth at Formby, were a far cry from the Caribbean, however!

It was a beautiful crisp autumnal early morning fieldwork session on ‘Modern Sedimentology’, and we were promised warm drinks and sustenance if the weather was inclement, at the Bathurst establishment nearby. 

As the tide rose on the sandbanks adjacent to the Formby dunes, it found us discussing Man’s effects on the environment, with the flotsam and jetsam of a rising Irish Sea tide, and lots of boats coming and going to the docks of Liverpool.

Robin, in his inimitable way, as usual led the discussion, with sediment transport examples being pointed out and analysed, in the sandbanks and growing tidal pools, as the group traversed the foreshore.

I do remember small examples of sediment movement being discussed, and the term "Turdibites" (sic), being coined.  (By now, you might see where the lowering tone of this 45 year-old reminiscence might be going.)

As some will remember, the Mersey, like many other rivers in the north of England, was not exactly clean and wholesome in the 1960s and '70s.  One student wag, contributed to the discussion thus: "This mess of sedimentary garbage can only mean one thing- that the next Geological Age will be called 'The Obscene'!" which a local enthusiastic student with an interest in palaeontology added: “and I suppose that the indicator/trace fossils will be Londinium rubericum or 'Mersey Trout', as we know them!”

George Reeves

Mining memories 07 September 2016

Received 07 SEPTEMBER 2016
Published 07 SEPTEMBER 2016
From Alan Golding

Sir, This article (SCARP - a Scottish Carboniferous research park by Leslie and Brown, Geoscientist 26.07 August 2016) took me back many years when, as a new graduate, I joined the NCB Opencast Executive based in the Midland Valley of Scotland. 

Having the opportunity to see the Coal Measures exposed in an opencast face was a real education in geology, better than any lecture theatre or text book, and it opened up a career path in coal which I have enjoyed ever since - although some 11,000km further south!

Turning these old opencast sites into a geological theme park, or whatever we want to call them, is a great way of showing people the real nature of geology with faults, folds and fossils for all to see ... and not imagine.

Alan Golding

Society could do more for the young 17 August 2016

Received 17 AUGUST 2016
Published 17 AUGUST 2016
From Rob McLaverty

Sir, I can't help but feel the Geological Society is not fully utilising the talent of its younger members.  The Society could benefit hugely from younger members' enthusiasm and ambition, and in return offer an opportunity for those in their early career to show their work and extend their network.

Some quick wins that would be easy to implement to galvanise us younger crowd could be: a monthly feature in Geoscientist, researched and written by a "young geoscientist"; having a Young Geoscientist Representative on the Council (or a Young Geoscientist sub-committee); and giving new young members an option to join a nation-wide ‘Young Geoscientist Group’ when they become fellows or candidate fellows (beyond just a Facebook Group!).

Why not continue the success of the Early Career Award by giving young people more opportunities to connect with each other and the community? At the same time the Society will be securing its future for the years ahead.

Rob McLaverty


Luddite? Moi? How very dare you! 12 August 2016

Received 12 AUGUST 2016
Published 12 AUGUST 2016
From Richard Arthur

Sir, your edited version of my letter published in the July Geoscientist included my humor but omitted a serious point which I was attempting to make regarding the Society’s support for fieldwork.  My comments were not born out of Luddism, as the headline suggested, but out of concern to stop the erosion of professional standards and make clear exactly what makes a geologist.

P M Carruthers was moved to write ‘Fieldwork’s importance overstated’ (Geoscientist Vol 27.4).  I doubt that anyone in their right mind, and certainly no geologist worth their ‘evaporite’, could fail to see the importance of fieldwork.  We simply cannot afford to give even the slightest excuse for the financially motivated etc. to abrade time, money or curriculum set aside for fieldwork. 

Those who are completely seduced by all things computer all to often seem to lack common sense and be oblivious to the idea of working from basic first principles  -  it is for this reason alone I have grave reservations about such technophiles.

Richard Arthur

3D geological model limited by Victorian mapping 10 August 2016

Received 10 AUGUST 2016
Published 10 AUGUST 2016
From David Nowell

Sir, Though the British Geological Survey report on 3D geological model of the superficial deposits of the Holderness area in East Yorkshire, upon which the feature about Models and Flooding (July 2016) was based is highly impressive, it is constrained by geological mapping dating back to the 1880s. Thus, one of the report's key conclusions is the need for more detailed borehole information to gain a fuller understanding of the till sequence and glacial stratigraphy, without acknowledging the need for fresh geological mapping enhanced by NEXTMap radar topographic imaging.

Backed up by geophysical surveys, this could be highly effective in delineating sands and gravels, rather than relying on the random accumulation of borehole records to plot their apparent extent.  Also it's odd that Holderness Meer is not shown with an uncertain striped permeability when it is being recharged through the superficial deposits, and Swan island in the middle is show as highly permeable.    

The composite geological map in the report (Figure 8) shows hitherto unmapped superficial deposits. This includes nearly a square kilometre of glaciofluvial gravel in Beverly adjacent to an area of exposed Chalk rather than till still shown on the bowdlerized online geology of Britain viewer, which promptly contracts itself when you pick though the borehole records. However this does not replace the need for integrated 10k geological mapping, so that even the Environment Agency who commissioned this report have been sold short.  

Without this, it is impossible to publish new 50k sheets (Proceedings of the Geologists' Association Vol. 127 (4), 422-424) 2016) so that people including local authority officers and councillors can have unbiased information about their ground conditions. Almost the entire area is covered by oil and gas exploration licenses, so it is vital that sensible objections to the siting of fracking pads and lorry routes damaging side-roads can be heard, rather than the whole debate becoming toxic and increasingly ill-informed. Perhaps this is why the 2015 BRGM annual report states that geological maps of France are essential for a wide range of uses and users and they continue to publish fresh 50k editions. 

David Nowell

Burke, H.  F., Morgan, D.  J.  R., Kessler, H.  and Cooper, A.  H., 2015.  A 3D geological model of the superficial deposits of the Holderness area.  British Geological Survey Commissioned Report, CR/09/132N (open access) 58pp. 

Nowell, D.A.G.  2016.  Map Review.    Nefyn and part of Caernarfon 1:50,000 series sheet 118 and part of 115 (England and Wales) Bedrock and Superficial deposits 2015, British Geological Survey.   Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, vol. 127, 422-424

Pritchard, O., Hallett, S. and Farewell, T. 2014.  Cracking up in Lincolnshire, Oliver Pritchard, Stephen Hallett and Timothy Farewell consider a case of the ‘wrong kind of soil’.   Geoscientist, volume 24, number 2, March 2014, pages 14 to 19 

Fellows' Room 01 August 2016

Received 01 AUGUST 2016
Published 01 AUGUST 2016
From Mark Godden

Sir, I read your editorial (Geoscientist 26.07 August 2016) relating to the temporary loss of the Fellows' Room to Fellows.  The removal of this important facility represents a significant deprivation to the Geological Society's Fellowship. For those of us who live and work a long way from London, the importance of things like a fully functioning Website and the knowledge that we could if we wish, make use of a room in Burlington House are not to be underestimated.

This lack of availability only serves to further increases the distance between the geographically more remote fraction of the Society's Fellowship and those who provide its administration. 

Mark Godden

Rise of the machines 01 August 2016

Received 01 AUGUST 2016
Published 01 AUGUST 2016
From Rob Wallace

Sir, The recent article by Martin Geach (Geoscientist 26.05 June 2016) and the letter from Chris Garland on computer mapping reminded me of some work I was involved in in the mid-1970s as computers became powerful enough to create reasonable maps.

I was assisting a team at Phillips in Oklahoma who were working (along with other oil companies) with the University of Kansas on the potential & the problems.  Almost all the issues identified then (some discussed by Chris) still occur today. 

At one meeting a ‘Super Major’ detailed some in-house research.  They generated a posted base map (2D data) and sent it to around 40 of their experienced geophysicists (+10 years) in various offices around the world to hand-contour.   The values on the map were extracted from a dataset in the USA but it was as ‘vanilla’ as possible.   No information was provided to the interpreters.

When the maps came back they were all very different – the one from Houston clearly envisioned listric faulting, the Louisiana office seemed to show salt domes, the Stavanger office tilted fault blocks etc etc . 

In other words, hand contouring reflected the inbuilt bias of the interpreter.

They then proceeded to average the maps in some way, and were surprised to discover that the final map looked very like the computer-generated map they had from the same data set!

Their conclusion was that computer generated maps are comparatively unbiased and (importantly) easy to duplicate by anyone using the same input parameters.   The problem is that the interpreters bias (or knowledge) may make all the difference in correctly mapping geological phenomena. 

Unfortunately you rarely see hand-drawn maps these days – the speed and convenience of pressing a button seems to override the need for interpreter bias.  I know that 3D data really does constrain the options but there is still a lot of mapping of 2D and scattered well values that could do with a more thoughtful approach.

Rob Wallace

Brexit explained (sort of) by geology 30 June 2016

Received 30 JUNE 2016
Published 30 JUNE 2016
From Micky Allen

Sir, It is not generally appreciated that the recent UK referendum to leave the EU (‘Brexit’) was directly caused by exploration geologists (and could possibly explain the recent resignation of the boss of Rio Tinto).

If you ask a geologist to find you a nice mineral deposit they usually discover another two (whether it is gold, uranium or iron-ore).  The plethora of iron-ore mines due to come on stream has meant an oversupply of this commodity.  However as neither BHP nor Rio Tinto were willing to cut back production, the price fell dramatically.

The only country that could now produce steel at a profit was China. China dumped steel in the west and, as UK steel plants were losing money they were then shutdown (Redcar, Llanwern, Port Talbot).  This produced social unrest in the UK 's already depressed areas, which voted for Brexit.

And this is why there are no more jobs for exploration geologists.  It’s society's punishment for the after effects of the UK referendum!  Simples.

Micky Allen

Field v Mouse 30 June 2016

Received 30 JUNE 2016
Published 30 JUNE 2016
From Tom Elder

Sir, My PhD thesis involved the study of the geology of the eastern half of what is termed the Levang Peninsula in southern Norway, just south of Kragerø. The western end fell to a student at Nottingham. Happily, my NATO scholarship enabled me to spend two whole years in Norway at Oslo University (1960 - 62), of which more than half my time was spent in the field. 

My Nottingham colleague, who preferred to spend his time peering down a microscope at mineral samples in the lab, concluded that it was an intrusive granite. My field work, meanwhile, enabled me to demonstrate conclusively the presence of a ghost stratigraphy resulting from essentially in situ granitisation.

And yes - I don’t think one can overstate the importance of field work!

Ha det bra så lenge!

Tom Elder

Extrapolation: fantasy v. reality 13 June 2016

Received 13 JUNE 2016
Published 13 JUNE 2016
From Chris Garland

Sir, Martin Geach (Soapbox, Geoscientist 26.5 June 2016) is raising an issue that was familiar to many petroleum geologists in the eighties: computer mapping of geological structures.  This old chestnut seems to have echoed across the decades and still resonates today.  I remember many a heated discussion about algorithms during interminable meetings to agree procedures for mapping oil and gas fields that crossed North Sea block boundaries and could vary in shape and volume distribution depending on which interpolation technique was used in CPS-1 or Zmap. 

Data points (ie wells) were usually more than 200m apart, unlike Martin’s example.  Although our volumes were measured from a surface down to a plane (eg the gas-water contact) the volumes, and the distribution of volumes by block, could vary widely between methods.  Martin’s examples of Kriging and IDW methods are almost incredibly close in their volumetric results.  However, the difference between them and the RBF/RST method is more than a factor of two - an intolerable outcome.

I suspect a wild over-extrapolation in the NE corner of the RBF/RST model where data are absent (as shown by the curious shape of contours in this area in the Kriging and IDW examples) and the algorithm has generated an unrealistically deep hole in the model.  This also occurs in the SW, where it appears the depths are much greater (indigo colour) in the RBF/RST model than in the other two models.  A rotation of the 3D view to show the depth axis, or a couple of cross-sections sliced across the model, would clearly reveal these reckless departures which, unless corroborated by real data points, should be eliminated by the geologist.  At least, they should if these deep troughs lie on my side of the block boundary!

Chris Garland

Website login and CPD reporting 01 June 2016

Received 01 JUNE 2016
Published 01 JUNE 2016
From Mark Godden

Sir, It is very hard for me to express my acute frustration at the seemingly never-ending lack of availability of the Society's on-line CPD reporting facility.

The Geological Society, one of the oldest and most erudite scientific institutions in the world, can't seem to be able to provide a functional website for its Fellows. I (foolishly) intended to maintain my personal CPD records here (compulsory for CGeol). The facility has been unavailable for very many months, so I'm forced to look to another institution for assistance.

I'm affiliated to a a couple of other professional organizations; the Institute of Quarrying and the Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining, all with annual subscriptions that are far lower than the Geological Society's and all with consistently reliable and fully operational websites.

Professionalism really must start at home. Please get it to together guys!

Blessed are the data handlers 27 May 2016

Received 27 MAY 2016
Published 27 MAY 2016
From Findlay Craig

Sir, I will never dispute that ‘the best geologist is the one who has seen the most rocks’, but am finding the repeated emphasis on field geology ‘über alles’ increasingly shrill.  Data gathered in the field only becomes valuable once we have analysed and understood it, and produced a predictive model.

This interpretation relies heavily on data being ‘clean’, organised, and in a usable format.  In order to meet reporting standards it is necessary to track any interpretive changes that deviate from the original field logging.  From beginning to end, data must be handled so as to preserve user trust.

As a consultant I have seen dozens of datasets of different kinds, from clients all across the world, from major players to minor operators.  In most instances, I would class their data storage and handling as ‘poor to middling’.  And neither size nor reputation of company, nor geographic location, have any bearing on the quality of their datasets. 

Long gone are the days when an entire mineral deposit could be mapped on paper, interpreted on section on paper.  Nowadays that work is done on computers, running specialist software, needing solid databases to work from.  Field studies and drilling programs cost money, and the value of the data won is very quickly lost if it is stored incorrectly.  Poor data storage costs more in the long run than it saves in the short term.

We may not like the fact that a large portion of a geologist’s life these days consists of moving columns of data around rather than licking rocks.  But it is here to stay, and we should show more appreciation of the value added to our work by the ‘dull’ task of maintaining good quality databases!

Findlay Craig

Nepal - not all its seisms 27 May 2016

Received 27 MAY 2016
Published 27 MAY 2016
From Len Fisher and Bleddyn Griffith

Sir, In the aftermath of the earthquake tragedy in Nepal, scientists are rightly studying the seismic factors that can give rise to further landslides (Nature 532, 428 - 431; 2016). Such studies are of inestimable value for many earthquake-prone regions around the world.

However, the situation in Nepal is exacerbated by two additional factors. One is that the foreland zone of the Himalayas, home to most of the population, consists primarily of clastic sediments produced by the uplift and erosion of the Himalayas and deposited by rivers (R B Sorkhabi & A Macfarlane, Himalaya and Tibet: Mountain Roots to Mountain Tops, Geol. Survey of America Spec. Pap. 328, 1-8; 1999).

It is relatively easy to bulldoze a basic road through this material, but such roads are subject to slow settlement, and the steep water-saturated slopes through which they are driven are liable to slippage at any time and at any scale when the steepness or saturation reach critical values (P. Bak et al., Phys. Rev. A 38, 364-374; 1987). This means that better seismological understanding and measurement can contribute only partly to a solution.

The other factor is the presence at high altitude of 1466 glacial lakes, the banks of any one of which may collapse to release its contents and produce a devastating flood that destroys roads and villages further down the mountain. Seismic events can precipitate such collapse, but so can heavy rain, snow, or the attainment of critical conditions.

Monitoring of seismic tremors gives warning of possible events, but what Nepal desperately needs is a system of monitoring and communication that addresses actual events so that, when the inevitable occurs, warning can be given in time for populations to escape from the path of the subsequent flood or landslide.  Roads, and even villages, can be replaced; people can’t.

Len Fisher, University of Bristol, UK & Bleddyn Griffith, road engineer, ADB Nepal project.

Holistic fieldwork 27 May 2016

Received 27 MAY 2016
Published 27 MAY 2016
From Jane Robb

Sir, Geological fieldwork is not just about geology!  It is also about learning the value of nature, observation, and more physical problem-solving approaches unique to geoscience and rare in other non-vocational degree fields. 

With a large focus (in the fields of health, education and psychology) on the importance of the outdoors and nature to well-being, we should count ourselves lucky as geoscientists to have this activity embedded in our curriculum, and take more time to acknowledge the more holistic educational benefits of being able to look at, and interpret, a landscape. 

I continually find value in having had both academic and fieldwork training, both in work and social life.  Friends and colleagues have been amazed at how I can 'explain' a previously mundane landscape to them, through basic geological observations. 

I see this as incredibly valuable in inspiring wonder, in myself and others, about the natural world - with great potential for increasing public scientific literacy (e.g.  Geolodia Geoscientist 27.04 p16).  Finally, for those geoscience students who may be less academic in the 'traditional' sense, and prefer ‘learning through doing’, fieldwork is a fantastic way to ensure their potential is not wasted.

Jane Robb

Fieldwork for subsurface geologists 27 May 2016

Received 27 MAY 2016
Published 27 MAY 2016
From Birger Hansen

Sir, Inspired by Mr Carruthers (Geoscientist 26.04, p 09), I would like to describe the role of fieldwork in my company.  We consult for the oil industry and all our studies are based on numerical data such as borehole images, petrophysical logs and pressure measurements.

Our geologists work all day in the sterile environment of an office.  They create various displays on a screen and try to imagine what real geology is going on down there at 5km, more inaccessible to humans than Mars.  Their results are maps and sections that look as if they were surface geological maps and mountainsides or road-cuts.  They use stereographic techniques the same way a field geologist does - with the difference that all data are acquired along a continuous curve, the well trace.

They constantly compare computed data with real rocks and real structures.  Despite our modest budget, we require each colleague to participate in at least one conference fieldtrip per year, and in an annual field trip we organise ourselves.  When recruiting, we select geology PhDs based on fieldwork.  The techniques peculiar to industry the candidates learn on the job. 

We do not sell fieldtrips to clients – we have no commercial axe to grind here.  The conference field trips usually present field analogues directly relating to our work on clients' oil fields, whereas the annual field trip focuses on wider topics including obduction, volcanism, rifting, fold/thrust belts.  All processes are connected; e.g.  structures in outcrop are the work of stress we observe in wellbores.

Yes, we seriously enjoy our field trips, and we could not do our work properly without it.  It is not a sin to enjoy one's job!

Birger Hansen

Inter Disciplinary Research - A Challenge for Geoscience 27 May 2016

Received 27 MAY 2016
Published 27 MAY 2016
From Alan Watson

Sir, Scientific discovery has always benefited from Inter-Disciplinary Research (IDR), enabling disparate subject areas to communicate in meaningful ways. This has never been more relevant than today when the understanding of Climate Change, DNA and Space Exploration have all involved multidisciplinary contributions. The corners of Science are moving closer and new understandings are emerging.

In May 2014 and again in July 2015 I provided letters following up on my research entitled Gravity and Mind which was first published in 2013. Broadly speaking, the nature of the work had been to gather evidence for a statistical relation between the incidence of riots on the one hand and the occurrence of earthquakes on the other.

The hypotheses tested a statistical link which requires the study of more than one area of science and this may explain the general lack of response to my work. I would imagine that some Geoscientists with their feet firmly grounded within the boundaries of conventional Geoscience may be skeptical, and they have remained unresponsive.

The research crossed boundaries between studies of the lithosphere and biosphere. Does the idea that we humans may be responding to our Dynamic Earth not generate any interest from an interdisciplinary perspective?

IDR is nothing new. Looking back historically, there are a great many examples of multi-disciplinary contributions to new discoveries. Going forward the recognition of the benefits of IDR presents a real challenge to Geoscience. Equally, IDR would present real opportunities and we must begin to look outward beyond the confines and comfort of our particular areas of interest.

Alan Watson

A horse of a different colour 12 May 2016

Received 12 MAY 2016
Published 12 MAY 2016
From John Simmons

Sir, What irony that the lead photograph used to illustrate the feature on the Chalk depicts a concrete horse. Shame on the BGS for not showing a chalk horse. Plenty to choose from in Wiltshire.

John Simmons (Wiltshireman)

Editor replies: John puts his finger on the reason why a concrete horse was chosen - it may be concrete at surface, but what is it at depth?  Hmm?  We're subtle like that here at Geoscientist.

Ground Truth – says who? 29 February 2016

Received 29 FEBRUARY 2016
Published 29 FEBRUARY 2016
From P M A Carruthers
Sir, I feel having Gary Nichols, Managing Director of Nautilus, “Largest single provider of field based training” make the case for field based training is like having the CEO of Ben ‘n Jerry’s make the case for ice cream.  Even worse, he doesn’t even make a good case.

We cannot walk along subterranean hydrocarbon reservoirs, but year-on-year enhanced recovery demonstrates we are doing something right. That would be the study of rock mechanics, fluid mechanics, porosity, permeability, reservoir pressures, injection pressures, flow rates, draw-down fluid contacts & so on.  Surely these are more laboratory sciences rather than field training?  It is not true that we can only study the vertical in well bores.  Most hydrocarbon based well paths now navigate horizontally through the reservoir with down-hole, real time tools which give fantastic resolution of rocks; particularly the measured physical properties so important  to evaluation & production.  We know there are commonly facies variations across reservoirs – no surprise there, but do field studies inform us on the best way to make reservoir fluids flow?

Continuing Personal Development (CPD) is an important aspect to everyone’s career & to companies’ success.  I would venture that the amount spent on Nautilus-type field training by energy sector companies versus everything else they put into individuals’ development approaches insignificance!

For our geological pioneers field study was indeed essential; they also rode around on horses & had no electric light.  Times change.  I like a day in the fresh air as much as the next person, so can’t we just be honest & say we go into the field because we enjoy it, rather than it being “essential or integral” to being a good geologist?

Now, where’s my ice cream?

P M A Carruthers


Cutting remarks 16 February 2016

Received 16 FEBRUARY 2016
Published 16 FEBRUARY 2016
From Craig Bunting
Sir, I was very interested to read Gary Nichols' article Ground Truth concerning the advantages of fieldwork in the oil and gas industry - a point I completely agree with.  I have a masters degree, which I have to say has not actually helped me one jot to get into the oil and gas industry - that is, the operator's side of it, the side which gets much of the media attention.  However I wanted to spotlight another perspective.

There is a large body of geologists who work in my side of the industry - oilfield services - who do have considerable field experience: the mudlogging crews and wellsite geologists.  They catch and describe samples during the drilling stage and while this is not quite the same as looking at large exposures in the field, it does give first-hand observation of the reservoir formations as well as any oil they may hold.

The same detail visible through a hand lens on an exposure in the field can also be seen in cuttings samples taken usually every three metres (measured depth, not vertical depth) within the reservoir section.  It is routine for the mudlogging crew and wellsite geologists to describe the cementation, porosity and permeability characteristics of likely reservoir formations and record them on daily and end-of-well reports.  Add to this the interpretation of gas data and the advanced gas-monitoring and interpretation services, core, seismic and petrophysical data is greatly bolstered.  Any office-bound reservoir geologist can simply sit a modest x10 microscope on their desk and ask for the cuttings samples of a well to be delivered to them.

It is good to hear that some operators still value training because in these lean times it has completely stopped for geologists in oilfield service companies who are shedding staff in the hundreds and cancelling all non-profit-making expenditure to ultimately satisfy the shareholder.

Craig Bunting

Your Own Death and How to Cope With It 04 February 2016

Received 04 FEBRUARY 2016
Published 04 FEBRUARY 2016
From Russell Corbyn
Sir, The intrinsic human nature to embrace Armageddon at every and any given turn is as unlikely to dissipate and will likely hang around and haunt us as do the remnants of Amoco Cadiz, Exxon Valdez and BP's latest attempt at reducing biodiversity in the Gulf of Mexico. Apocalypse. We love it. We dream of it and yet it never seems to happen.

The ability of our minds to comprehend futures, societies and existences beyond that which we already know is at best limited. We all have versions but articulating a complete picture and comprehending it is another thing entirely. A little knowledge is indeed dangerous and with regard to predicting future trends among a complex web of interactions, is a mere folly, but we endeavour to do so whether in the face of futility or otherwise. There are many who have enlightened our imaginations with tales of greatness followed by disintegration - H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Olaf Stapledon, Arthur C. Clarke, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor and many more have written the doom-laden futures of humanity that we repeatedly seek.

One thing that unifies them all is the acceptance that the increased demand of explosive societal needs or homogenisation are the downfall of Humankind. Reverend Thomas Robert Malthaus (1766 – 1834) predicted the demise of the human race due to an exponential demand for food and water that the agricultural practices of the day could not sustain. Not to worry, some time passes and there are technological solutions, societal changes and this of course affects the bottom line of altering supply and demand in a way that maintains our existence. Phew. I’m not dead after all.

So by that logic we are all ok as long as technology can fix it and society can adapt. Brilliant. This indeed backs up the argument supplied by David Nowell in Vol 26, No. 1 of Geoscientist. Aside from a quick dip into elevated temperatures possibly being bad, it is assumed that the whole world is being paranoid and the only reason we don’t want to drill in the arctic is because we’re a bit guilty of driving cars around and flying planes rather needlessly – to which I totally agree, we are addicted to oil and perversely defending it by capitalist measures. Can’t we leave some things alone?

What was clear from little Tommy Malthaus prediction was that something had to change or indeed we would be faced with significant famines and yet, things have and, disproportionately, we still are.

From the substantial desertification of Sub-Saharan Africa (and the modern day analogue with 30s dustbowl America that were once luscious plains), Latin America and Mongolia/China to global and regional overpopulation, bee and insect depletion, rising sea levels, overconsumption, fresh water resource depletion, invasive species, virus transportation due to globalisation, etc. it could be assumed we are living in perilous times. The anti-argument may be that we are always living in perilous times. Would that last statement be a bit remiss and blasé? (Maybe I am dead).

Of course it would. To merely state that the more environmentally aware scientists are blinkered and that humanity should have a good look at itself in the microverse is utter insanity. Fiddle away, Nero. Sanity would suggest the overloading of a system is not a good thing. Note the end Permian and end Cretaceous et al. There is so much to examine closely in society at the decision making levels. That does not render the journalist wrong, and to state it is “divisive” is grossly unfair and wrong. Aside from the fact that polemic is used to bring attentions to poorly reported matters, the reality is that we are addicted to oil and it will kill us by direct and indirect measures should we persist (what say you Rev. Tom?) along the same lines of irresponsible use. Perhaps we need to prove Malthaus wrong again, maybe that societal change and technological revolution at the higher levels is needed once more. Putting the blinkers on and blaming an SUV driving mum with a rather well fed child watching Red Dwarf (again) on DVD is probably not.


Russell Corbyn CEnv MRSC FGS MIEnvSc – Site Investigation, Soil and Rock Analysis, Concrete & Cementitious Materials Petrology and Petrogaphy, Waste Materials & Re-Use Assessment. Kiwa CMT Testing.


Hubbert's Peak, apples, and oranges 19 January 2016

Received 19 JANUARY 2016
Published 19 JANUARY 2016
From Antony Wyatt

Sir,  Hillis is correct to point out that Hubbert (1956) was predicting peak production, not exhaustion, of liquid hydrocarbons (and not other energy resources), but misses out that he was concerned with what were then considered to be conventional sources.

My understanding is that production from potential sources such as deep water and fracking were excluded from his calculations. To include these unconventional sources in a test of a Hubbert’s predictions seems a bit like comparing apples and oranges.

Dr Antony Wyatt, School of Engineering, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, AB10 7GJ


Hubbert's Peak not even 'correct' 13 January 2016

Received 06 JANUARY 2016
Published 13 JANUARY 2016
From Richard Hillis

Sir, Ragnarsdottir and Sverdrup in their article Limits to Growth revisited (Geoscientist 25.9) stated “Hubbert (correctly!) predicted an exhaustion date for the oil and energy resources of the United States as 1970”.  In fact the 1970 date refers to US liquid hydrocarbons (not other energy resources such as coal and uranium) and is Hubbert’s (1956) predicted peak production, not exhaustion, date. 

strjs Furthermore, and notwithstanding the enormous respect which Hubbert deserves for his body of work, as the figure illustrates, Hubbert’s (1956) prediction of US oil production is far from correct. The “peak resources community” cannot justifiably continue to use Hubbert’s (1956) prediction of future US oil production in support of their views.

Richard Hillis Chief Executive Officer, Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre, Adelaide.